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. 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.

Hope everyone who celebrates had a wonderful holiday! I did, except my vacation has gone by much too quickly!

This week’s edition is books from my wishlist that I received as Christmas gifts with one publisher-sent copy. One is from Angie’s list of books from Women in SF&F Month. Some of these books are ones mentioned by Courtney Schafer in her interview and a few are also from Rachel Neumeier’s list of essential fantasy authors. Others are just books by authors who have written other books I’ve liked, and some came from recommendations for more Patricia McKillip books I’ve gotten from a lot of people since discovering her writing recently. (I already read one of these and it was WONDERFUL!)

Since a lot of these are older books (and because this is a long post and I still need to make my world famous chocolate cheesecake for New Years’ Eve), I’m not going to look for excerpts this time. Many older books don’t have them available online, although they can often be found for many of these books by browsing inside the book at Amazon and other online booksellers.

The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia A. McKillip

The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia A. McKillip

This is one of those books by Patricia McKillip that I’ve been recommended a lot. Angie’s Retro Friday review of it also piqued my interest.

Twenty years ago, the powerful mage Atrix Wolfe unleashed an uncontrollable force that killed his beloved king. Now, the Queen of the Wood has offered him one last chance for redemption. She asks him to find her daughter, who vanished into the human world during the massacre he caused. No one has seen the princess-but deep in the kitchens of the Castle of Pelucir, there is a scullery maid who appeared out of nowhere one night long ago. She cannot speak and her eyes are full of sadness. But there are those who call her beautiful.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

Another Angie recommendation! This is one of those books I’ve heard very little about, but what little I’ve heard is that it’s wonderful.

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen–terrified, but intrigued–is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

I’d never even HEARD of this author or book before seeing it on Rachel Neumeier’s list, which seems like a shame. Margaret Mahy is well-known and respected author of children’s books in New Zealand. She has written over 120 books and won the Carnegie Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

When her little brother seems to become possessed by an evil spirit, fourteen-year-old Laura seeks the help of the strangely compelling older boy at school who she is convinced has supernatural powers.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Not science fiction or fantasy but a book I’ve wanted to read for awhile! I actually bought a copy years ago and started to read it before realizing it was the abridged version. Once I realized it was abridged, I stopped reading it since I wanted to read the full version.

A popular bestseller since its publication in 1844, The Count of Monte Christo is one of the great page-turning thrillers of all time. Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, Dumas’s grand historical romance recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantes, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape, and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal. As Robert Louis Stevenson declared, “I do not believe there is another volume extant where you can breathe the same unmingled atmosphere of romance.”

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel (Crown Duel/Court Duel) by Sherwood Smith

After reading Banner of the Damned earlier this year, I have decided I must read more books written by Sherwood Smith! This one is recommended a lot and sounds like something I would like. It is an omnibus containing Crown Duel and Court Duel, plus the short story “Vidanric’s Birthday Surprise.”

Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting-with wits and words and secret alliances.

In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one.

The Firebird edition of Crown Duel combines the hardcover editions of Crown Duel and Court Duel-and features a never-before-published story by Sherwood Smith!

Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker

Devices and Desires (Engineer #1) by K. J. Parker

Ever since reading The Folding Knife, K. J. Parker has been an author I’ve wanted to read more by and I’ve heard really good things about this trilogy. The books in the Engineer trilogy are as follows:

  1. Devices and Desires
  2. Evil for Evil
  3. The Escapement

When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance — one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others…

In a compelling tale of intrigue and injustice, K. J. Parker’s embittered hero takes up arms against his enemies, using the only weapons he has left to him: his ingenuity and his passion — his devices and desires.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

I already read this one, and it’s definitely one of my favorites I’ve read this year. It’s beautifully written and full of layers and meaning.

Sixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren–the man who brought this child–returns, Sybel’s world is again turned upside down.

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C. J. Cherryh

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C. J. Cherryh

A fantasy book by Hugo Award winning author C. J. Cherryh, probably better known for her science fiction books. She’s one of those authors I haven’t read yet, and I need to fix that at some point!

My husband got me a hardcover signed copy, which is pretty nice.

From the three-time Hugo Award-winner comes this “high fantasy” of the wizard Mauryl, kingmaker for a thousand years, and his shaping of a young man who would be king–if only the fates and wizard wars would let him.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The Game of Kings (The Lymond Chronicles #1) by Dorothy Dunnett

I’ve heard this series is challenging but rewarding. It’s been on my wish list for awhile, but seeing what Courtney Schafer said about it in her interview renewed my curiosity about it!

The books in the Lymond Chronicles are as follows:

  1. The Game of Kings
  2. Queens’ Play
  3. The Disorderly Knights
  4. Pawn in Frankincense
  5. The Ringed Castle
  6. Checkmate

For the first time Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles are available in the United States in quality paperback editions.

The first book in the legendary Lymond Chronicles, Game of Kings takes place in 1547. Scotland has been humiliated by an English invasion and is threatened by machinations elsewhere beyond its borders, but it is still free. Paradoxically, her freedom may depend on a man who stands accused of treason: Francis Crawford of Lymond.

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

It’s very rare that I have a short story collection on my wishlist, but since I loved many of the stories in Patricia McKillip’s Wonders of the Invisible World, I’m pretty excited about this one!

A fantasist without equal, Patricia A. McKillip has created worlds of intricate beauty and unforgettably nuanced characters. For 25 years, she’s drawn readers into her spell, spinning modern-day fables with a grace rarely seen. Now she presents a book of previously uncollected short stories, full of beautiful dragons, rueful princesses, and handsome bards, and written in the gorgeous – and often surprisingly funny – prose she’s known for. This is her world, wrapped up in the finery of fairy tales.

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

Inversions (A Culture Novel) by Iain M. Banks

Another Culture book! Reading The Hydrogen Sonata reminded me that I need to read more of these books, and this one sounded really interesting to me after reading about it online.

Iain M. Banks, the international bestselling author of The Player of Games and Consider Phlebas, is a true original, a literary visionary whose brilliant speculative fiction has transported us into worlds of unbounded imagination. Now, in his acclaimed new novel, Banks presents an engrossing portrait of an alien world, and of two very different people bound by a startling and mysterious secret. On a backward world with six moons, an alert spy reports on the doings of one Dr. Vosill, who has mysteriously become the personal physician to the king despite being a foreigner and, even more unthinkably, a woman. Vosill has more enemies than she first realizes. But then she also has more remedies in hand than those who wish her ill can ever guess.

Elsewhere, in another palace across the mountains, a man named DeWar serves as chief bodyguard to the Protector General of Tassasen, a profession he describes as the business of “assassinating assassins.” DeWar, too, has his enemies, but his foes strike more swiftly, and his means of combating them are more direct.

No one trusts the doctor, and the bodyguard trusts no one, but is there a hidden commonality linking their disparate histories? Spiraling around a central core of mystery, deceit, love, and betrayal. Inversions is a dazzling work of science fiction from a versatile and imaginative author writing at the height of his remarkable powers.

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam (New Amsterdam #1) by Elizabeth Bear

I want to read everything Elizabeth Bear has written (which may be difficult since she’s rather prolific but maybe someday). This is one of those books I didn’t know much about other than that she wrote it, but it seems like each of these books is a collection of stories about PI Abigail Irene Garrett. There are 5 books altogether, and the recent one is the last planned.

I’m not sure if it’s necessary to read these books in order (and it sounds as though they aren’t published in chronological order from Goodreads reviews), but here is the publication order:

  1. New Amsterdam
  2. Seven for a Secret
  3. The White City
  4. Ad Eternum
  5. Garrett Investigates

Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty. Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world – and its only hope for justice!

The Safekeeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

I’ve only read one book by Sharon Shinn and enjoyed it very much so I need to read more! This is one of her young adult books, and there are some other books in the same setting (The Truth-Teller’s Tale and The Dream-Maker’s Magic).

Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep silent. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper–a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, names the foundling Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow into teenagers and come of age, they must come to terms with who they are–and who they may be. Sharon Shinn’s many fantasy novels have won her a loyal following. This book, firmly in the tradition of Robin McKinley’s bestselling Spindle’s End and Shinn’s own Summers at Castle Auburn (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults), is thoughtful, warmhearted, and a sheer delight to read.

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia A. McKillip

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia A. McKillip

Another recommended McKillip book and another signed copy given to me by my husband.

During the wedding festivities of his king, Cyan Dag, a knight of Gloinmere, is sought out by a mysterious bard and told a terrifying tale: that the king has married a false queen — a lie cloaked in ancient and powerful sorcery. Spurred on by his steadfast honor and loyalty, Cyan departs on a dangerous quest to rescue the real queen from her tower prison, to prevent war, and to awaken magic in a land that has lost its way.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

This is another book I was intrigued by after seeing it mentioned in Courtney Schafer’s interview.

New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake, orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.

Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.

Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and beseiged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.

Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

Ice Forged (Ascendant Kingdoms #1) by Gail Z. Martin

This first book in a new series will be released in trade paperback and ebook on January 8.

Condemned as a murderer for killing the man who dishonored his sister, Blaine “Mick” McFadden has spent the last six years in Velant, a penal colony in the frigid northern wastelands of Edgeland. Harsh military discipline and the oppressive magic of the governor’s mages keep a fragile peace as colonists struggle against a hostile environment. But the supply ships from Dondareth have stopped coming, boding ill for the kingdom that banished the colonists.

Now, McFadden and the people of Velant decide their fate. They can remain in their icy prison, removed from the devastation of the outside world, but facing a subsistence-level existence, or they can return to the ruins of the kingdom that they once called home. Either way, destruction lies ahead…