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. Cover images are affiliate links to Bookshop, and I earn from qualifying purchases.

It’s been a while since the last one of these features since April was the eleventh annual Women in SF&F Month series. In case you missed it, there were 17 guest posts by speculative fiction authors discussing a variety of topics: their experiences as a reader and writer, the ideas they explore in their work, worldbuilding, fairy tales/folktales and retellings, monsters, the types of characters they gravitate toward, and more.

And then, things came up the week before last, and I ended up having to work on the weekend instead of doing one of these posts.

It would take a long time to cover every book that has arrived since the end of March today, especially since my birthday is in April. So this week’s post will just include the latest ARC in the mail and a couple of other new books that I don’t believe I’ve discussed here before.

Cover of Rise of the School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Rise of the School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

This is a prequel to the New York Times bestselling School for Good and Evil books and the start of a new series set in the same universe. Rise of the School for Good and Evil will be available on May 31 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Goodreads currently has a US-only giveaway of five print copies running through May 30.

I’ve been looking forward to the Netflix movie The School for Good and Evil coming out later this year, and fairy tale subversions are very much my cup of tea, so I’m excited to read this!


The battle between Good and Evil begins.

Two brothers.

One Good.

One Evil.

Together they watch over the Endless Woods.

Together they choose the students for the School for Good and Evil.

Together they train them, teach them, prepare them for their fate.

Then, something happens.

Something unexpected.

Something powerful.

Something that will change everything and everyone.

Who will survive?

Who will rule the School?

The journey starts here. Every step is filled with magic, surprises, and daring deeds that test courage, loyalty, and who you really are. But they only lead you to the very beginning of the adventures that are THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL.

Cover of Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Patricia A. McKillip’s The Changeling Sea and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld are two of my favorite books, and I love her writing in general, so I was delighted to get another one of her books for my birthday this year.


Fantasy author Patricia A. McKillip, the 21st century’s response to Hans Christian Andersen, has mastered the art of writing fairy tales — as evidenced by previous works like The Tower at Stony Wood, Ombria in Shadow, and In the Forests of SerreAlphabet of Thorn is yet another timeless fable suitable for children and adults alike.

In the kingdom of Raine, a vast realm at the edge of the world, an orphaned baby girl is found by a palace librarian and raised to become a translator. Years later, the girl — named Nepenthe — comes in contact with a mysterious book written in a language of thorns that no one, not even the wizards at Raine’s famous Floating School for mages, can decipher. The book calls out to Nepenthe’s very soul, and she is soon privately translating its contents. As she works tirelessly transcribing the book — which turns out to be about the historical figures of Axis, the Emperor of Night, and Kane, his masked sorcerer — the kingdom of Raine is teetering on the brink of chaos. The newly crowned queen, a mousy 14-year old girl named Tessera who wants nothing to do with matters of state, hides in the woods as regents plot revolution. The queen’s destiny, however, is intertwined with Nepenthe’s ability to unravel the mystery of the thorns.

Cover of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

This was another birthday present I was quite excited about! I have heard such great things about this #1 New York Times bestselling YA science fiction novel, which reimagines the rise of China’s only female emperor, Wu Zetian.

Xiran Jay Zhao’s website has a free PDF sample from Iron Widow.


An instant #1 New York Times bestseller!

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.