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.

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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.