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.

This weekend’s highlights include one upcoming book and a few of this year’s releases, three of which were books from my anticipated 2022 releases list that I ordered. (Technically, some of these should have been featured last weekend, but I ran out of time so they ended up being part of today’s post instead.)

In case you missed it, here’s the latest post since the last Leaning Pile of Books:

  • Review of The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne — I loved the concept of a historical account of the life of the witch from “Rapunzel” (with a dash of otherworldly abilities), but I found it to be a “just okay” novel since I didn’t find the story, writing, or characters particularly compelling.

Now for the latest book arrivals!

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo Book Cover

Into the Riverlands (The Singing Hills Cycle #3) by Nghi Vo

The third novella in Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle is scheduled for release on October 25 (hardcover, ebook).

The Empress of Salt and Fortune, the first book in this series of standalones about a wandering cleric, won the Hugo and Stabby Awards for Best Novella and garnered Nghi Vo a Crawford Award, which recognizes an outstanding new writer. It was also a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Novella, Ignyte Award for Best Novella, and Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy. has an excerpt from When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, the second published novella in the series.

I’ve been wanting to read these for a while so I was thrilled to discover that this works as a standalone!


Nghi Vo’s Locus and Igynte Award Finalist, and Crawford and Hugo Award-Winning Series, The Singing Hills Cycle, continues…

“A remarkable accomplishment of storytelling.”—NPR on The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themself far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be.

Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story—beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel—bears more than one face.

The Singing Hills Cycle

The Empress of Salt and Fortune
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
Into the Riverlands

The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entry point.

Babel by R. F. Kuang - Book Cover

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang

R. F. Kuang’s latest novel recently came out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. (This is largely what prompted me to place a book order.)

The publisher’s website has text and audio samples from Babel.

I’ve only heard wonderful things about Babel, and I’m excited to see what R. F. Kuang does with dark academia. I very much enjoyed The Poppy War, her debut novel, which was one of my favorite books of 2018. The final book is still on my TBR, but The Dragon Republic, the next book in the series, was one of my favorite books of 2019. (And if you missed it before, R. F. Kuang shared why she wrote about women who wanted power in this series in “Be a Bitch, Eat the Peach” shortly before the first book’s publication in 2018.)


From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

Bronze Drum by Phong Nguyen Book Cover

Bronze Drum by Phong Nguyen

This historical/mythic fiction novel about the Trung Sisters was released earlier this month (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has a book club kit for Bronze Drum featuring discussion questions, an author interview, and a recipe.

This sounds like an amazing story, and I enjoy reading fictional accounts of legends.


A “gripping historical adventure” of ancient Vietnam based on the true story of two warrior sisters who raised an army of women to overthrow the Han Chinese and rule as kings over a united people, for readers of Circe and The Night Tiger (Booklist).

Gather around, children of Chu Dien, and be brave.
For even to listen to the story of the Trung Sisters is,
in these troubled times, a dangerous act.

In 40 CE, in the Au Lac region of ancient Vietnam, two daughters of a Vietnamese Lord fill their days training, studying, and trying to stay true to Vietnamese traditions. While Trung Trac is disciplined and wise, always excelling in her duty, Trung Nhi is fierce and free spirited, more concerned with spending time in the gardens and with lovers.

But these sister’s lives—and the lives of their people—are shadowed by the oppressive rule of the Han Chinese. They are forced to adopt Confucian teachings, secure marriages, and pay ever‑increasing taxes. As the peoples’ frustration boils over, the country comes ever closer to the edge of war.

When Trung Trac and Trung Nhi’s father is executed, their world comes crashing down around them. With no men to save them against the Han’s encroaching regime, they must rise and unite the women of Vietnam into an army. Solidifying their status as champions of women and Vietnam, they usher in a period of freedom and independence for their people.

Vivid, lyrical, and filled with adventure, The Bronze Drum is a true story of standing up for one’s people, culture, and country that has been passed down through generations of Vietnamese families through oral tradition. Phong Nguyen’s breathtaking novel takes these real women out of legends and celebrates their loves, losses, and resilience in this inspirational story of women’s strength and power even in the face of the greatest obstacles.

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd - Book Cover

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Peng Shepherd’s second novel was released earlier this year (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has text and audio samples from The Cartographers.

I’ve been looking forward to reading more by Peng Shepherd since reading The Book of M, her imaginative debut novel about people suddenly losing their memories—and since hearing her discuss her next novel focusing on magical maps when she received the Neukom Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction. (She also wrote a guest post here about the—sometimes literal—magic of books, “The Time-Traveling Book That Made Me Love SFF.”)


From the critically acclaimed author of The Book of M, a highly imaginative thriller about a young woman who discovers that a strange map in her deceased father’s belongings holds an incredible, deadly secret—one that will lead her on an extraordinary adventure and to the truth about her family’s dark history.

What is the purpose of a map? 

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence…because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps…

Perfect for fans of Joe Hill and V. E. Schwab, The Cartographers is an ode to art and science, history and magic—a spectacularly imaginative, modern story about an ancient craft and places still undiscovered.

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse - Book Cover

Fevered Star (Between Earth and Sky #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

The second book in the Between Earth and Sky series was released earlier this year (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

Nerdist has a chapter one excerpt from Fevered Star, and the publisher’s website has text and audio samples from Black Sun, the first book in the series.

Black Sun was one of my favorite books of 2020; I loved the world (and the crows and giant crows).


Return to The Meridian with New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Roanhorse’s sequel to the most critically hailed epic fantasy of 2020 Black Sun—finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Lambda, and Locus awards.

There are no tides more treacherous than those of the heart. —Teek saying

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?

As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.

And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?

Welcome back to the fantasy series of the decade in Fevered Star—book two of Between Earth and Sky.