The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Some of this is a little late since things have been busier than usual (my husband has been recovering from surgery), but better late than never! This weekend’s highlights include two books in the mail, an ebook purchase, and a digital ARC, but first, here is the latest post since one of these features in case you missed it:

  • Guest Post by Bitter Medicine Author Mia Tsai This contains information on Mia Tsai’s new xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy novel and “The Case for Aftermaths,” an essay about her love of character-driven stories and aftermaths. (It also includes discussion of the endings of The Princess Bride, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Hunger Games trilogy.)

And now, the latest books on the TBR!

Cover of The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

This novella, a reimagining of the Japanese folktale “The Crane Wife,” came out a few weeks ago. It’s available in hardcover and ebook, and has an excerpt of the first chapter from The Crane Husband. Goodreads currently has a giveaway of 15 print copies for readers in the US and Canada, ending on March 31.

New York Times bestselling author Kelly Barnhill received the World Fantasy Award for her novella The Unlicensed Magician and the John Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon. She is also the author of the National Book Award finalist The Ogress and the Orphans and the novel When Women Were Dragons, which was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee in the fantasy category.

I’ve heard wonderful things about Kelly Barnhill’s work, especially The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and this novella sounds like just the type of dark fairy-tale-like story that’s right up my alley. (As I mentioned before, this post is a bit late and I actually started writing it last weekend. I’ve read a bit of the beginning of The Crane Husband since writing about it here, and I’m enjoying the prose and how creepily unsettling it is so far.)


Award-winning author Kelly Barnhill brings her singular talents to The Crane Husband, a raw, powerful story of love, sacrifice, and family.

“Mothers fly away like migrating birds. This is why farmers have daughters.

A fifteen-year-old teenager is the backbone of her small Midwestern family, budgeting the household finances and raising her younger brother while her mom, a talented artist, weaves beautiful tapestries. For six years, it’s been just the three of them—her mom has brought home guests at times, but none have ever stayed.

Yet when her mom brings home a six-foot tall crane with a menacing air, the girl is powerless to prevent her mom letting the intruder into her heart, and her children’s lives. Utterly enchanted and numb to his sharp edges, her mom abandons the world around her to weave the masterpiece the crane demands.

In this stunning contemporary retelling of “The Crane Wife” by the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, one fiercely pragmatic teen forced to grow up faster than was fair will do whatever it takes to protect her family—and change the story.

Cover of The Chariot at Dusk by Swati Teerdhala

The Chariot at Dusk (Tiger at Midnight #3) by Swati Teerdhala

The final book in the Tiger at Midnight trilogy is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. The publisher’s website has a text sample and audio excerpt from The Chariot at Dusk, in addition to text and audio samples from the previous books in the series:

  1. The Tiger at Midnight
  2. The Archer at Dawn

I’ve been considering getting a copy of this for a while, and I finally purchased it when I had a few Kindle credits. Although I almost always buy print books, the first couple of books in this series were exactly the type of books I don’t mind reading digitally: fast-paced, compulsively readable, and just plain fun. Swati Teerdhala seems to love and understand what makes the tropes she uses—like a softer boy and a harder girl who bond despite being on opposite sides—work, and I also rather enjoyed the world, which has Indian and Hindu influences.

My reviews of the first two books are here:

  1. The Tiger at Midnight
  2. The Archer at Dawn

Swati Teerdhala also wrote the Women in SF&F Month 2019 essay “The Unlikeable Heroine,” which opens with some thoughts on Sansa Stark:

The first time I heard someone call a heroine unlikeable, I was confused. To me, this heroine, Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones, was a character I had been waiting a long time for. I saw her as someone flawed, someone who was simply trying her best.

She starts off as a young girl caught up in her own life and unaware of her surroundings. She was a little selfish, a little naive, a little too trusting. But she was also kind, clever, and tough. Sansa learns and changes over seven seasons, as she grows into a woman. A woman who is complex and so painfully human, I often wanted to cringe and look away in fear that she might expose my own shortcomings. But also a woman so strong in the face of tragedy and terror that she encouraged. Inspired me.

In short, a woman who was real.

She later discussed writing Esha, one of the two main protagonists in the Tiger at Midnight series, and how her attempts to make her “likeable” in earlier drafts were keeping her from being true to her character.


The sweeping, dramatic finale of Swati Teerdhala’s South India-inspired fantasy trilogy rounds out the epic, romantic tale of an assassin and a soldier fighting to save their country and their people. Perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard.

A queen at last. An empty palace. A kingdom to save.

Esha is reeling from Kunal’s betrayal, but she has a kingdom to rule from behind a thin smokescreen—pretending to be Princess Reha while she sends her most trusted soldiers to collect Reha and Kunal by any means necessary. Traitors, after all, must be punished.

But the Yavar are attacking from every front—tracking down Kunal and Reha in the remote mountains, kidnapping Harun—in search of legendary artifacts that will give them the power to break the precarious janma bond and release the destructive magic back into the lands.

Now that the race is on to find the missing artifacts, Esha must put aside her rage and work with Kunal again—but can she find the strength to forgive him, or will the Viper have her revenge at any cost?

Cover of Under Alien Skies by Philip Plait

Under Alien Skies: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Universe by Philip Plait

This book by astronomer and Bad Astronomy author Philip Plait (who also wrote articles of the same name) will be released on April 18 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It sounds fascinating: a guide to what it would be like to explore various parts of the universe, including overviews of the moon, Pluto, black holes, planets with two suns, and more.


A rip-roaring tour of the cosmos with the Bad Astronomer, bringing you up close and personal with the universe like never before.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the universe? How would Saturn’s rings look from a spaceship sailing just above them? If you were falling into a black hole, what’s the last thing you’d see before getting spaghettified? While traveling in person to most of these amazing worlds may not be possible—yet—the would-be space traveler need not despair: you can still take the scenic route through the galaxy with renowned astronomer and science communicator Philip Plait.

On this lively, immersive adventure through the cosmos, Plait draws ingeniously on both the latest scientific research and his prodigious imagination to transport you to ten of the most spectacular sights outer space has to offer. In vivid, inventive scenes informed by rigorous science—injected with a dose of Plait’s trademark humor—Under Alien Skies places you on the surface of alien worlds, from our own familiar Moon to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond. Try launching yourself onto a two-hundred-meter asteroid, or stargazing from the rim of an ancient volcano on a planet where, from the place you stand, it is eternally late afternoon. Experience the sudden onset of lunar nightfall, the disorientation of walking—or, rather, shuffling—when you weigh almost nothing, the irritation of jagged regolith dust. Glimpse the frigid mountains and plains of Pluto and the cake-like exterior of a comet called 67P. On a planet trillions of miles from Earth, glance down to see the strange, beautiful shadows cast by a hundred thousand stars.

For the aspiring extraterrestrial citizen, casual space tourist, or curious armchair traveler, Plait is an illuminating, always-entertaining guide to the most otherworldly views in our universe.

Cover of The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec

The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec

This historical fantasy novel set in tenth century Norway will be released on July 25 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Popsugar has an excerpt from The Weaver and the Witch Queen., and Goodreads is currently running a US giveaway of 10 print copies (ending March 31).

This sounds fantastic, and I’ve heard such great things about Genevieve Gornichec’s first novel, The Witch’s Heart, which also has Norse influences.


The lives of two women—one desperate only to save her missing sister, the other a witch destined to become queen of Norway—intertwine in this spellbinding, powerful novel of Viking Age history and myth from the acclaimed author of The Witch’s Heart.

Oddny and Gunnhild meet as children in tenth century Norway, and they could not be more different: Oddny hopes for a quiet life, while Gunnhild burns for power and longs to escape her cruel mother. But after a visiting wisewoman makes an ominous prophecy that involves Oddny, her sister Signy, and Gunnhild, the three girls take a blood oath to help one another always.

When Oddny’s farm is destroyed and Signy is kidnapped by Viking raiders, Oddny is set adrift from the life she imagined—but she’s determined to save her sister no matter the cost, even as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to one of the raiders who participated in the attack. And in the far north, Gunnhild, who fled her home years ago to learn the ways of a witch, is surprised to find her destiny seems to be linked with that of the formidable King Eirik, heir apparent to the ruler of all Norway.

But the bonds—both enchanted and emotional—that hold the two women together are strong, and when they find their way back to each other, these bonds will be tested in ways they never could have foreseen in this deeply moving novel of magic, history, and sworn sisterhood.

I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Mia Tsai to share with you today! Her debut novel, Bitter Medicine, is a xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy book about a magical calligrapher descended from the Chinese god of medicine working with a half-elf security expert. It will be available in trade paperback and ebook next week—on March 14!


Cover of Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai
Cover Art by Jialing Pan
More Information & Book Excerpt



In this inspired contemporary fantasy, a Chinese immortal and a French elf navigate romance, family loyalty, and workplace demands. In her debut novel, Mia Tsai has created a paranormal adventure that is full of humor, passion, and depth.

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother. Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life on a mission, he brings her a gift and a request for stronger magic to ensure success on the next job—except the next job is hunting down Elle’s younger brother.

As Luc and Elle collaborate, their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

The Case for Aftermaths

I love endings. They’re easily my favorite part of the book both to read and write, so much so that when I read a book, I often peek at the ending well before I get there just to get a sense of what I should expect. It’s reassuring, in a way, to know that things will coalesce and turn out for good or ill. As a writer, I write toward my ending; I never start a project without knowing exactly how it ends.

Endings are predictable: the hero wins or loses following a stirring climax, which is often a confrontation of some kind. The reader walks away from the book (or the arc, or the chapter, or anything that might constitute an ending because books are full of endings) with the satisfaction of the win or the ache of the loss and many feelings, depending on the complexity of said win or loss. It’s often here that an author will stop the story (or start a new story) because it’s a logical place to stop.

But what I love more than endings are aftermaths.

I’m a character-driven reader and writer. No matter the magic and wonder in a book, especially in a fantasy, I’m drawn to the realities and contradictions of being human. We’re messy and flawed and have emotions we sometimes can’t control. We take action and then face the consequences of those actions. Characters in books go through so many traumatic events, events that form endings—and then very little is said about what happens immediately after. Sometimes, I think about the ending of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, where—spoiler alert, if you haven’t read it—he has his heroes ride off into the sunset, quite literally, allowing the reader to bask in the happy ending until “S. Morgenstern” inserts a series of awful things that happen five minutes later. Goldman then has to cut in to make sure the reader gets the satisfying ending that was promised.

Except I wasn’t that reader. I had questions, you see. How was Westley supposed to sit a horse after his ordeal? For that matter, how was Fezzik supposed to sit a horse? And aren’t they all being chased? Is that book two material?

I think about what happens next all the time because storylines are not lines, but cycles. Stories can be engines of perpetual motion, where every ending becomes a beginning. Where, after the big conflict, you sift through the ashes and find the seeds of growth. I like to joke, except I’m being very serious, that when I find a place of maximum pain in the story, I go and press on it a little more to see what happens. I write five minutes past the ending to see if there’s something more the characters can give. The instinct is to stop where it hurts, but sometimes, if you push further, you’ll find the scene extends in ways you hadn’t anticipated. That five minutes can turn into ten minutes, and then suddenly, there’s a new depth of emotion.

So: the aftermath. The denouement. I am invested in a denouement where the sun still rises on the next day. We don’t often get to see the climactic story events reverberating through the text, especially not in the direct thereafter, but those ripples are the story to me. I want to ask What now? and get an answer. I want to see how characters approach rebuilding, because that can be more difficult than the fighting, or how they heal their minds and spirits along with their bodies.

Two examples of aftermath stories come to mind: the Scouring of the Shire and the end of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay. The Scouring of the Shire, when I first read it as a kid, felt tacked-on to me, as if it were just one more way for Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin to suffer. As a child, I loved the neatness of Sauron’s fall, of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and Praise them with great praise! As an adult, though, I see the necessity of the Scouring. War exacts a heavy toll and nothing remains untouched by it, and I respect Tolkien for staying with his characters—and himself—and showing us the human toll. Likewise, in Mockingjay, we see (spoilers once again!) how life is not always happy for Katniss and Peeta, and how their new normal, for however long it stretches, is only bearable if they have each other.

This really hits, for me, at the heart of what it means to tell a story. No matter the trappings of the setting, no matter the cool factor or the ooh, shiny!, the story is about human emotion and connection at every level. An aftermath, then, is a way to extend those connections and get deeper insight on who the characters are, to reveal their frailties in the best and worst of situations.

I’ll admit, though, not everyone likes to see what comes after, especially if a story isn’t supposed to be that deep. And Western media likes to present solutions like they’re event horizons to be crossed. It’s much easier to imagine the big win will fix everything. But the reality of it is that nothing is tidy, not even in worlds where everything is made up. Embrace the idea of looking beyond the goal. Use an aftermath to show that the sun will still rise tomorrow. Give us aftermaths so we can process alongside our heroes.

Photo of Mia Tsai
Photo Credit: Wynne Photography
Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds (really, truly) and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

I added one new ebook to the TBR last week, and I received the book I mentioned I’d ordered in last weekend’s Leaning Pile of Books. Since I already discussed A Deadly Education and highlighted the rest of The Scholomance series in that post, I’m not going to cover my book purchase in this week’s feature.

In case you missed it, here’s what went up last week:

And now, a new book that sounds fantastic!

Cover of Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

This short story collection was published by Ateneo de Manila University Press last year and is available in paperback and ebook. Depending on where you live, you may only be able to find the digital edition, which is currently available through Kindle Unlimited or for $4.99 on Amazon. The author’s website does have some information on how to get a shipping quote for a paperback if you are outside the Philippines.

There is also a Story Notes page with more background on each of these tales, which include “Odd and Ugly” and “Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café.”

Vida Cruz-Borja is also the author of the wonderful Ignyte Award–winning essay “We Are the Mountain: A Look at the Inactive Protagonist.”


A diwata brings a grieving slave’s brother back to life as a mango tree. Two writers write their ideal lovers into existence with ink from a mangkukulam. A kapre and a farmgirl play out a tale as old as time in Spanish colonial Philippines. A girl with a magical heritage must rescue a bumbling cartographer from the hidden city of Biringan. Maria Makiling opens a pop-up café with human heartbreak on the menu.

In Song of the Mango and Other New Myths, Vida Cruz-Borja brings stories woven from elements of classical myths and folklore from the Philippines and other parts of the world, as well as from visions of the modern and of the future. In worlds richly reimagined and reinvented, these “new myths” explore hidden depths from flawed characters who strive to search for a just and equal world, whether that may be in the realm of ordinary humans or the realm of magical creatures.


As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Note: This review covers the third book in a trilogy, and it contains spoilers for the previous books in the series after the fifth paragraph. You may prefer to read my review of The Obsidian Tower (book 1) or my review of The Quicksilver Court (book 2).

The Ivory Tomb concludes Melissa Caruso’s Rooks and Ruin trilogy, a standalone series set about 150 years after her Swords and Fire trilogy (The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, The Unbound Empire). Rooks and Ruin follows Ryx, the appointed protector of her Witch Lord grandmother’s castle. For 4000 years, her family has been responsible for making sure The Door That Must Never Be Opened in the building’s Black Tower remains shut, but things go horribly wrong when a visiting ambassador breaks their millennia-long streak of success as guardians. To make matters even worse, Ryx—whose touch kills living things—accidentally comes into contact with the diplomat while trying to keep her from opening the Door, further enflaming political tensions.

This incident starts the series’ main story, which involves learning about what happened last time the Door was opened while trying to prevent the same horrors from happening again. Ryx also discovers the truth about her own strange magic that is so unlike the rest of her family’s powers, which bring life instead of taking it away, and grapples with self-acceptance.

I adored the first book in this trilogy, The Obsidian Tower. It’s filled with interpersonal drama with friends and foes alike gathered in the castle while a murderer runs rampant, and it kept me pondering who may or may not be trustworthy. It also did a fantastic job setting up the mysteries surrounding the Door and Ryx’s powers, and I could hardly put it down. Even better, I kept thinking about it after I did have to set it down.

However, I didn’t love the next book, The Quicksilver Court, the same way as the first. It’s still very good with some memorable scenes and lines of dialogue (and the great reveal about Ryx’s powers), but I didn’t find it nearly as riveting as the first book. The palace setting wasn’t as captivating as the family castle with its history and occasional rooms of bone, and the interpersonal connections were less compelling. This installment delved more into the pasts of Ryx’s friends in the Rookery, and I didn’t think these characters had enough depth or charisma to carry that amount of focus.

And though I found it to be more of a page-turner than the second book, The Ivory Tomb is my least favorite of the three. It’s a good, well-paced book with amusing dialogue, and I found it extremely readable after the first 40 pages or so. Yet, I also found that there weren’t parts or lines that stuck with me after I finished it. It just didn’t have that special spark that takes a story to the next level—and given that I felt similarly about parts of the previous book, I didn’t love this series nearly as much as Swords and Fire despite my love for the first book in the trilogy.

From this point forward, there will be spoilers for the first two books in this series.

The Ivory Tomb starts shortly after the end of the previous book, which revealed that all nine of the demons who nearly destroyed the world are once again running loose. Ryx is still trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s one of them—sort of—since her grandmother saved her life by letting one of the demons merge with her when she was deathly ill as a baby. This was one of the most benevolent demons but also one of the most destructive ones: Disaster. After Ryx learns that she’s part Disaster (which really explains so much), the memories of her life as a demon start to come back in bits and pieces, but there’s still a lot that she doesn’t remember from that time.

I have never liked amnesia as a story device. Fortunately, this novel’s brisk pacing meant there were enough other things happening that I kept turning the pages, and this case is at least a little different from the norm since Ryx retains her human memories. However, the holes in her memory contributed to my overall feeling that this could have been a stronger book. Ryx’s (very understandable) concerns about how her friends would react to the news that she was the legendary demon who nearly destroyed the world were compelling, but the fact that she couldn’t remember much of her personal history with the other demons made their interactions kind of lackluster.

A major part of this book’s storyline involves Ryx encountering the various demons who are wreaking havoc on the world. The others remembered her, for better or worse, but she tended to just have vague memories and feelings related to them. These interactions between Ryx and the other demons are a sort of family drama since she thinks of them as kin: she doesn’t necessarily like all of them, but she feels obligated to at least try to reason with them and work out a peaceful solution. However, I found this rather lifeless compared to all the human family drama in the first book, where it was clear why tensions existed between these people. There were obvious reasons they had messy relationships; it wasn’t just someone being shocked Ryx didn’t remember what happened between them, only for Ryx to eventually recall what had happened and fill the reader in after the fact. This probably would have worked for me if the new demons had more personality, but they’re rather one-dimensional beings named after their primary drive or power. Of course, this makes sense for these types of characters, but they still could have been imbued with some charisma that made them stand out more.

I couldn’t help but compare this to the Swords and Fire trilogy (although at least part of my preference for this series was due to the political drama and the way it played with fantasy tropes). Amalia, the protagonist, had no personal history with a lot of the Witch Lords she met, but they each had quirks and charm that made them captivating even if they only briefly appeared. But it was more than just that: the characters in the earlier series were more vibrant in general. The relationships Amalia had with people seemed better fleshed out and defined—including those with characters she met along the way, though to be fair, Ryx did have less people experience since exuding death made it difficult to get close to others—and the scenes and dialogue sparkled, particularly in the second and third books. Rooks and Ruin seemed more like it was going through the motions without giving it that extra shine, especially when it came to the characters in the Rookery. (I actually did like badass warrior Ashe and scholarly Bastian, whose little bits of dimension and duality worked better for me than the attempts made with the other two members. Even so, I didn’t find them nearly as memorable as many of the characters in Swords and Fire.)

But like I said earlier, I thought that The Ivory Tomb was a good book, as you can see from my rating. After the first few chapters, it kept me interested in finding out what happened until the very end, and I enjoyed it more than many of the books I read or sampled last year. It still had the same elements that I liked about the previous installment, particularly Ryx’s relationship with the mage Severin and the foxlike chimera who is more than he appears, Whisper. (I really liked Whisper. A lot.)

The Ivory Tomb just didn’t have that special spark, that tricky-to-define heart, that would have made the characters and story live in my memory as other books have—the way The Obsidian Tower did, or the way the Swords and Fire series did.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Rooks and Ruin Excerpts:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Last week brought three books, one electronic ARC and two gifts from my husband.

There haven’t been any new posts since the last one of these features, but I’m working on a review I hope to have up soon. Plus The Scarlet Circus giveaway that accompanied Jane Yolen’s guest post has come to an end. I’ve heard from both winners, so better luck next time to those of you who did not receive an email about it!

Cover of Of Light and Shadow by Tanaz Bhathena

Of Light and Shadow by Tanaz Bhathena

Tanaz Bhathena’s next novel, a standalone YA fantasy book, will be released on May 23 (hardcover, ebook). Her previous work includes the YA fantasy books in The Wrath of Ambar duology. Hunted by the Sky, the first book in the series, won the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award for Canadian young adult literature and the Bapsi Sidhwa Literary Prize for works by Zoroastrian authors.

The author mentioned that Of Light and Shadow contains the following in a post on Goodreads:

an infamous bandit
a rakish prince
an enemies-to-lovers romance
magical beings inspired by Persian and Zoroastrian mythology
a corrupt world inspired by the badlands of 17th century India

Between the mythological inspirations and character dynamic, this sounds rather intriguing to me!


Of Light and Shadow is a novel about magic, mayhem, love, and betrayal—the story of a bandit and a prince who change each other in unexpected ways.

When they don’t give us our birthright, we steal it.

Roshan Chaya is out for justice. Abandoned by her parents at birth and adopted by the kingdom of Jwala’s most notorious bandit before his brutal murder, she is now leader of the Shadow Clan, a gang of farmers-turned-bandits impoverished by the provincial governor’s atrocities and corruption. Roshan’s goal: to avenge her adoptive father and earn back rights and dignity for her people.

Prince Navin has always felt like an outcast. Second in line for the throne, he has never been close to his grandmother, Queen Bhairavi of Jwala. When a night out drinking with friends leads to his capture by the infamous Shadow Clan, Navin schemes to befriend Roshan and use her as a means to escape. His ploy, however, brings Navin closer to the corruption and poverty at the heart of Roshan’s province, raising questions about its governor and Navin’s own family.

To further complicate things, the closer Roshan and Navin get, the harder it becomes to fight their growing attraction. But how can they trust each other when the world as they know it starts to fall apart?

Set in a magical world inspired by the badlands of 17th century India, this standalone epic fantasy novel by Tanaz Bhathena is packed with political tensions, dangerous schemes, and swoon-worthy romance that asks the age old question: can love conquer all?

Cover of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

All three books in The Scholomance are out now, and this one is available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook. The publisher’s website has an excerpt and audio sample from The Last Graduate.

The last two books in this series were a gift from my husband, who knew this was a bit risky since I wasn’t sure about continuing this series after reading A Deadly Education. But he’d heard that the series got better and seen some raves about them, so he decided to get them for me anyway. Given that, I’m glad he did.

Although I found the rambling voice tedious, I came to really like El as a character and I am curious about where the story goes. I also wonder if this is a book I might like better knowing where it ends up, so I ordered a print copy in order to reread it and go into the rest of the series with it fresh in my mind. (It will also be interesting to see if reading it in print makes it a better experience since I do tend to find that works better for me, and I think this is a case where that could make a difference.)


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The specter of graduation looms large as Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking, New York Times bestselling trilogy continues in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education.

“The climactic graduation-day battle will bring cheers, tears, and gasps as the second of the Scholomance trilogy closes with a breathtaking cliff-hanger.”—Booklist (starred review)


In Wisdom, Shelter. That’s the official motto of the Scholomance. I suppose you could even argue that it’s true—only the wisdom is hard to come by, so the shelter’s rather scant.

Our beloved school does its best to devour all its students—but now that I’ve reached my senior year and have actually won myself a handful of allies, it’s suddenly developed a very particular craving for me. And even if I somehow make it through the endless waves of maleficaria that it keeps throwing at me in between grueling homework assignments, I haven’t any idea how my allies and I are going to make it through the graduation hall alive.

Unless, of course, I finally accept my foretold destiny of dark sorcery and destruction. That would certainly let me sail straight out of here. The course of wisdom, surely.

But I’m not giving in—not to the mals, not to fate, and especially not to the Scholomance. I’m going to get myself and my friends out of this hideous place for good—even if it’s the last thing I do.

With keen insight and mordant humor, Novik reminds us that sometimes it is not enough to rewrite the rules—sometimes, you need to toss out the entire rulebook.

The magic of the Scholomance trilogy continues in The Golden Enclaves

Cover of The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance #3) by Naomi Novik

The last book in The Scholomance came out late last year and is currently available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The publisher’s website has an excerpt and audio sample from The Golden Enclaves.

Warning: The book description below does contain spoilers for the previous book. (Yes, I totally spoiled myself, although it also wasn’t detailed enough that I’m all that upset about it.)



#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Saving the world is a test no school of magic can prepare you for in the triumphant conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate.

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Paste, Publishers Weekly

The one thing you never talk about while you’re in the Scholomance is what you’ll do when you get out. Not even the richest enclaver would tempt fate that way. But it’s all we dream about: the hideously slim chance we’ll survive to make it out the gates and improbably find ourselves with a life ahead of us, a life outside the Scholomance halls.

And now the impossible dream has come true. I’m out, we’re all out—and I didn’t even have to turn into a monstrous dark witch to make it happen. So much for my great-grandmother’s prophecy of doom and destruction. I didn’t kill enclavers, I saved them. Me and Orion and our allies. Our graduation plan worked to perfection: We saved everyone and made the world safe for all wizards and brought peace and harmony to all the enclaves everywhere.

Ha, only joking! Actually, it’s gone all wrong. Someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in my stead, and probably everyone we saved is about to get killed in the brewing enclave war. And the first thing I’ve got to do now, having miraculously gotten out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound like they may be interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

There are no new book arrivals from the last week, but now that I’ve got both my favorite books of 2022 and most anticipated books of 2023 posts up, I’m catching up with a belated holiday gift edition of this feature! This week’s highlights are all books that I got for Christmas, and although a couple of them are not categorized as fantasy or science fiction, I included them anyway because I think other fans of these genres may find them interesting as well.

But first, here is last week’s post in case you missed it:

And now, the books from over the holidays!

Cover of What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

This collection of nine short stories narrated by various animals came out toward the end of last year. It’s currently available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and the publisher’s website has an excerpt from What We Fed to the Manticore.

I’m not sure exactly how many of these stories qualify as speculative fiction (in the more traditional sense, as opposed to speculating about how animals might tell their stories). It is sometimes tagged as fantasy, and I’ve seen reviews that mention it contains some magical realism and myth. Since this collection’s themes include environmentalism and conservation, it may also have some stories that appeal to science fiction readers interested in climate fiction.

In any case, stories told from the perspectives of animals sounds amazing, and I’ve seen nothing but praise for this book. I’m looking forward to taking some time to really sink into these stories, imagining the world as viewed through the eyes of a tiger, a whale, a donkey, a vulture, and the other animals in this book.


In nine stories that span the globe, What We Fed to the Manticore takes readers inside the minds of a full cast of animal narrators to understand the triumphs, heartbreaks, and complexities of the creatures that share our world.

Through nine emotionally vivid stories, all narrated from animal perspectives, Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s debut collection explores themes of environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, loss, and family with resounding heart and deep tenderness. In Kolluri’s pages, a faithful hound mourns the loss of the endangered rhino he swore to protect. Vultures seek meaning as they attend to the antelope that perished in Central Asia. A beloved donkey’s loyalty to a zookeeper in Gaza is put to the ultimate test. And a wounded pigeon in Delhi finds an unlikely friend.

In striking, immersive detail against the backdrop of an ever-changing international landscape, What We Fed to the Manticore speaks to the fears and joys of the creatures we share our world with, and ultimately places the reader under the rich canopy of the tree of life.

Cover of Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

This Filipino-inspired YA fantasy debut came out toward the end of last year and is currently available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The paperback edition will be released in June.

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Dauntless.

I read this already and really enjoyed it, especially the beasts, the magical armor, and the settlements in giant, widespread trees. This is a book in a setting that’s a bit different than usual, and I had a lot of fun exploring this world with Seri, the main character.


A teen girl must bring together two broken worlds in order to save her nation in this lush, Filipino-inspired young adult fantasy novel from debut author Elisa A. Bonnin.

“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”

Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.

Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.

Cover of Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge; translated by Jeremy Tiang

This was the first one of Yan Ge’s books written in Chinese to be translated into English and published in the US. It’s available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and the publisher’s website includes a sample from Strange Beasts of China.

This is another book that I want to read because it features fantastic animals, and I love that the protagonist is a cryptozoologist.


From one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Chinese literature, an uncanny and playful novel that blurs the line between human and beast …

In the fictional Chinese city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is commissioned to uncover the stories of its fabled beasts. These creatures live alongside humans in near-inconspicuousness—save their greenish skin, serrated earlobes, and strange birthmarks.

Aided by her elusive former professor and his enigmatic assistant, our narrator sets off to document each beast, and is slowly drawn deeper into a mystery that threatens her very sense of self.

Part detective story, part metaphysical enquiry, Strange Beasts of China engages existential questions of identity, humanity, love and morality with whimsy and stylistic verve.

Cover of Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1) by Sharon Kay Penman

First published in 1985, Here Be Dragons is currently available in trade paperback and ebook.

I’ve seen Sharon Kay Penman’s historical fiction books recommended for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, and that’s exactly why I had Here Be Dragons on my wish list. It doesn’t have any fantastical elements that I’m aware of, but it sounds like the political conflicts are intense, so I’m excited! (As much as I love the dragons and direwolves, the characters and royal/house politics are largely why A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my longtime favorites, after all.)


Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales—and Llewelyn—Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.

The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.