The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (often these are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

Between the holidays and writing my end of the year/beginning of the year posts, there’s a bit of catching up to do! This week, I’m just highlighting books I received for Christmas, and next week I plan to catch up on the rest.

There is one book I left off this list since I’ve already written about it a few times recently: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri. I loved this book and received a finished copy for Christmas. It was my 2018 Book of the Year, and I also reviewed it here.

There have been a few reviews and articles since the last one of these posts:

  • Review of The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library #5) by Genevieve Cogman — I didn’t think this installment was quite as much fun as the first four books in the series, but I’m still looking forward to the next book.
  • My Favorite Books of 2018 — I shared the eight books I found most memorable in 2018 and why they stood out to me.
  • Anticipated 2019 Speculative Fiction Releases — This is by no means a comprehensive list of the many books coming out this year that sound intriguing, but this is a list of the ones that I think sound the most intriguing of those. It includes books by both authors I’ve read before and new-to-me and debut authors.
  • Review of Star of the Morning (Nine Kingdoms #1) by Lynn Kurland — This is the first part of a fantasy romance trilogy that I found entertaining as a fun, quick read with the secret identity trope, but the fantasy world itself was pretty standard and not particularly compelling. I’m not planning to continue the series since there are approximately 2 billion books I want to read and I thought this one was just slightly better than okay.

Without any further ado, here are the holiday arrivals!

Monstress, Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress, Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress has some of the most gorgeous artwork I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been enjoying this dark graphic novel series a lot.

I have already read this one, and although I found the beginning a bit slow, it wasn’t long before I was immersed in Maika’s story. Now I’m looking forward to volume 4!


Maika has spent most of her life learning how to fight, but how will she fare when the only way to save her life…is to make friends?

Collects issues 13-18 of the Hugo Award and British Fantasy Award series.

Black Wings Beating by Alex London

Black Wings Beating (Skybound #1) by Alex London

I’ve wanted to read this young adult fantasy book ever since I first heard that it featured falconers! Visiting my local bird sanctuary/nature center got me interested in raptors of all kinds, and I was thrilled to hear of this book.

Mashable has more about Black Wings Beating and an excerpt here.


The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their worwld is more revered than the birds of prey and no one more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.

Brysen strives to be a great falconer―while his twin sister, Kylee, rejects her ancient gifts for the sport and wishes to be free of falconry. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward their home in the Six Villages, and no bird or falconer will be safe.

Together the twins must journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the Ghost Eagle, the greatest of the Uztari birds and a solitary killer. Brysen goes for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.

In this first young-adult fantasy novel in a trilogy, Alex London launches a soaring saga about the memories that haunt us, the histories that hunt us, and the bonds of blood between us.

Sister Emily's Lightship by Jane Yolen

Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories by Jane Yolen

I was excited to get a signed hardcover copy of this collection of Jane Yolen’s stories! Of course, Jane Yolen is a wonderful writer and I love fairy tale reimaginings.

The description below is from the ebook edition since it’s easier to find and had more information on the book.


In these twenty-eight magnificent tales, which include two Nebula Award winners, Jane Yolen puts a provocative spin on familiar storybook worlds and beloved fairy tale characters

One of the most acclaimed and honored authors in science fiction and fantasy, Jane Yolen has been called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” for her brilliant reimagining of classic fairy tales. In her first collection of short stories written for an adult audience (after Tales of Wonder and Dragonfield), Yolen explores themes of freedom and justice, truth and consequence, and brings new life to our most cherished fables and myths.

Here are storybook realms rendered more contemporary, and cautionary tales made grimmer than Grimm: Snow White is transported to Appalachia to match wits with a snake-handling evil stepmother and Beauty’s meeting with the Beast takes a twisty, O. Henry–esque turn; in Yolen’s Nebula Award–winning “Lost Girls,” a feminist revolt rocks Peter Pan’s Neverland and in the collection’s glorious title story—also a Nebula winner—the poet Emily Dickinson receives some unexpected and otherworldly inspiration. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always enthralling, Sister Emily’s Lightship is proof positive that Yolen is truly a folklorist of our times.

This ebook features a personal history by Jane Yolen including rare images from the author’s personal collection, as well as a note from the author about the making of the book.

The Merry Spinster by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

I somehow hadn’t heard of this book before I got it for Christmas, but it sounds fascinating—dark fairy tale retellings “with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief”!

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Merry Spinster.


From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.

Readers of The Toast will instantly recognize Ortberg’s boisterous good humor and uber-nerd swagger: those new to Ortberg’s oeuvre will delight in this collection’s unique spin on fiction, where something a bit mischievous and unsettling is always at work just beneath the surface.

Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.

Bed time will never be the same.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

I’ve heard that this young adult fantasy is wonderful and have been wanting to read it!

Bustle has an excerpt from Girls of Paper and Fire.


Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

This young adult historical fantasy is another book I’ve heard is fantastic!

Epic Reads has an excerpt from The Bird and the Blade.


A sweeping and tragic debut novel perfect for fans of The Wrath and the Dawn and Megan Whalen Turner.

The Bird and the Blade is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from author Megan Bannen.

Enslaved in Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom . . . until the kingdom is conquered by enemy forces and she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father across the vast Mongol Empire.

On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks’ exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into an impossible love.

Jinghua’s already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand—and if they fail, they die.

Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf’s kingdom—and his very life—on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she’s capable of . . . even if it means losing him to the girl who’d sooner take his life than his heart.

Star of the Morning
by Lynn Kurland
336pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 5.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.91/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.87/5

Book Description:

Darkness covers the north, since the black mage has begun his assault on the kingdom of Neroche. Legend has it that only the two magical swords held by Neroche’s king can defeat the mage. Now the fate of the Nine Kingdoms rests in the hands of a woman destined to wield one of those blades…

In this land of dragons and mages, warrior maids and magical swords, nothing is as it seems. And Morgan will find that the magic in her blood brings her troubles she cannot face with a sword-and a love more powerful than she has ever imagined.

Star of the Morning, the first book in the Nine Kingdoms series by New York Times bestselling author Lynn Kurland, is also the first installment in a fantasy romance trilogy following Morgan, a fierce warrior who loathes magic, and Miach, a prince and archmage. Their story continues in The Mage’s Daughter and concludes with Princess of the Sword.

As darkness threatens the land, the king’s magic mysteriously vanishes, leaving him with a non-magical sword that seems as if it never contained any power at all. With the kingdom’s defenses on the line, he brings the weapon to his brother Miach and demands that he solve the problem. When Miach does not immediately discover a way to restore the sword’s magic, he suggests that his brother search for the mage who can awaken a second legendary sword possessed by the royal family. Their undercover mission to find the wielder sets the two brothers on the same path as Morgan, who is on a quest she finds most distasteful: delivering a magical blade to the king. But Morgan has no idea that the pompous jerk she knocked out and stole from is the very same king she set out to find—or that his far more compelling younger brother is not just a farmer who knows a few minor spells related to growing crops.

As the first of three books, Star of the Morning does not tell a complete story, and it seems as though the tale is just getting started toward the end of this novel. There’s a lot of traveling, reading about Morgan and Miach getting to know (and then starting to fall for) each other, waiting for Miach to realize Morgan is the wielder, and waiting for Morgan to realize Miach is actually Prince Miach the Archmage. The latter was quite enjoyable since I do enjoy the secret identity trope, but there were times Morgan’s obliviousness was overdone.

The secondary characters are one dimensional, and although they are certainly more complex than the others, the two main characters also do not have a great deal of depth. Most of the focus is on Morgan’s development as it delves into her past and her struggle with accepting that she does indeed have magic, which she has long despised as being inferior to strength and steel. Morgan is outspoken and doesn’t take crap from anyone—even the king, and I doubt that having known his true identity would have made any difference to her whatsoever!—and her serious nature contrasts with Miach’s easygoing nature, which makes him someone she comes to feel comfortable around. I liked both main characters and thought their budding romance developed believably, and it seems like they are well matched.

The fantasy world and elements are rather generic and there are very few surprises. Although this is partially because readers have the advantage of getting both main characters’ perspectives, there’s also a distinct lack of subtlety or originality. The kingdom, magic, and legends are all very standard and vaguely familiar, but of course, it’s possible that the setting and its history are fleshed out more later in the series.

Overall, I found Star of the Morning to be conventional and slowly paced, yet lightly entertaining as a quick read with some fun interactions between the main characters. However, it was not memorable enough for me to add the next installment to my massive, constantly expanding to-read list even though it had its moments.

My Rating: 5.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

It appears that 2019 will be filled with excellent books, and this list is even a couple of books longer than last year’s massive list! It was difficult to winnow this list down to an at all reasonable number of books at first, and this is by no means a comprehensive list of notable books coming out in 2019—there are a lot—but this is a list of the books that appealed the most to me personally. Some are new installments in series I love, some are upcoming books by authors whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, and some are by new-to-me or debut authors. All of them seemed like they had to be on any list I made of 2019 releases that sounded amazing. (As usual, I’m sure there will also be more books that I haven’t heard about yet that will also sound amazing, especially books coming out later in the year.)

These books are ordered by expected release date, but in the case of books scheduled for release on the same day, they’re in no particular order. The expected released date is the release date in the US unless otherwise stated.

Due to the length of this blog post, I’m only showing the first 10 books on the main page. You can click the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link after the tenth book to read the entire article.

Without further ado, here are the 2019 releases that sound particularly excellent!

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 8

I’m beyond excited for the conclusion to Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy: not only was her debut, The Bear and the Nightingale, one of my favorite books of 2017, but The Girl in the Tower was also my 2017 Book of the Year. These beautifully written, atmospheric historical fantasy novels are set in a fourteenth century Rus’ populated by various spirits and figures from Slavic folktales—although Vasya remains one of rare few people aware of their existence. The lovely prose breathes life into the setting and the wonderful characters, and I especially loved Vasya and admired her possession of self-acceptance (which Katherine Arden wrote about here).


Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

“A tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty
The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S. A. Chakraborty
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 22

The Kingdom of Copper is the second book in S. A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, following her acclaimed debut novel The City of Brass. I confess that I haven’t yet read the first book (although I did purchase a copy on one of my trips to the bookstore and am hoping to read it soon!), but I’m still excited about the sequel since this sounds like a series I will enjoy. Plus, S. A. Chakraborty’s Twitter feed is one of my favorites due to her interesting discussions of literature, such as this thread on the original story of “The City of Brass” from One Thousand and One Nights.


S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass—”the best adult fantasy I’ve read since The Name of the Wind” (#1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir)—conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Dark Star Trilogy #1) by Marlon James
Scheduled Release Date: February 5

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, an African history and mythology-inspired epic fantasy novel by Man Booker Prize–winning author Marlon James, first caught my eye because of the striking cover image—but it remained in view because of the description! (There may be a recurring theme of fantasy books that meld myth and history throughout this list.)


The epic novel, an African Game of Thrones, from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

In the stunning first novel in Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child. 

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
The Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons #1) by Jenn Lyons
Read an Excerpt (the First 11 Chapters!)
Scheduled Release Date: February 5

I’ve been hearing great things about Jenn Lyons’ debut epic fantasy novel, and it does sound rather intriguing—particularly that the “hero” is meant to destroy the world, not save it.


When destiny calls, there’s no fighting back.

Kihrin grew up in the slums of Quur, a thief and a minstrel’s son raised on tales of long-lost princes and magnificent quests. When he is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds himself at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless power plays and political ambitions.

Practically a prisoner, Kihrin discovers that being a long-lost prince is nothing like what the storybooks promised. The storybooks have lied about a lot of other things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he isn’t the hero after all. For Kihrin is not destined to save the world.

He’s destined to destroy it.

Jenn Lyons begins the Chorus of Dragons series with The Ruin of Kings, an epic fantasy novel about a man who discovers his fate is tied to the future of an empire.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: February 12

I found Charlie Jane Anders’ previous novel All the Birds in the Sky to be thoroughly enjoyable (and delightfully quirky!), so I’m curious about her upcoming science fiction novel The City in the Middle of the Night.


Charlie Jane Anders, the nationally bestselling author of All the Birds in the Sky delivers a brilliant new novel set in a hauntingly strange future with The City in the Middle of the Night.

“If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams… And from there, it’s easy to control our entire lives.”

January is a dying planet–divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Humanity clings to life, spread across two archaic cities built in the sliver of habitable dusk.

But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a student and reluctant revolutionary, is supposed to be dead, after being exiled into the night. Saved only by forming an unusual bond with the enigmatic beasts who roam the ice, Sophie vows to stay hidden from the world, hoping she can heal.

But fate has other plans–and Sophie’s ensuing odyssey and the ragtag family she finds will change the entire world.

Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock
Where Oblivion Lives (A Los Nefilim Novel) by T. Frohock
Scheduled Release Date: February 19

I found T. Frohock’s debut novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale, to be a wonderful character-driven dark fantasy book with some unique touches—and I am thrilled she has another novel coming soon! Where Oblivion Lives features the same world and main characters as her Los Nefilim novellas (In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death), which also have some strengths in common with her first novel: such as the unique touches and a compelling, complex main character. To learn more about this world, you can read T. Frohock’s essay “Angels and Daimons and the Supernatural World of Los Nefilim.”


A lyrical historical fantasy adventure, set in 1932 Spain and Germany, that brings to life the world of the novellas collected in Los Nefilim: Spanish Nephilim battling daimons in a supernatural war to save humankind.

Born of daimon and angel, Diago Alvarez is a being unlike all others. The embodiment of dark and light, he has witnessed the good and the horror of this world and those beyond. In the supernatural war between angels and daimons that will determine humankind’s future, Diago has chosen Los Nefilim, the sons and daughters of angels who possess the power to harness music and light.

As the forces of evil gather, Diago must locate the Key, the special chord that will unite the nefilim’s voices, giving them the power to avert the coming civil war between the Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists. Finding the Key will save Spain from plunging into darkness.

And for Diago, it will resurrect the anguish caused by a tragedy he experienced in a past life.

But someone—or something—is determined to stop Diago in his quest and will use his history to destroy him and the nefilim. Hearing his stolen Stradivarius played through the night, Diago is tormented by nightmares about his past life. Each incarnation strengthens the ties shared by the nefilim, whether those bonds are of love or hate . . . or even betrayal.

To retrieve the violin, Diago must journey into enemy territory . . . and face an old nemesis and a fallen angel bent on revenge.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Scheduled Release Date: February 26

The Priory of the Orange Tree has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen lately—I just love the colors and contrast combined with the image of the dragon twining around the tower! The cover art by Ivan Belikov and David Mann can be seen in all its glory here.

How could I resist a book described as “an enthralling epic fantasy about a world on the brink of war with dragons–and the women who must lead the fight to save it,” especially when it has such a captivating cover?


From the internationally bestselling author of The Bone Season, an enthralling epic fantasy about a world on the brink of war with dragons–and the women who must lead the fight to save it.

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction–but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

The Shadow Glass by Rin Chupeco
The Shadow Glass (The Bone Witch #3) by Rin Chupeco
Scheduled Release Date: March 5

I rather enjoyed following Tea’s story in The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger, in which she raises the dead, follows her heart, and generally defies society’s rules for bone witches such as herself. In particular, I found it delightful that she’s not destined to save the world but change it— for both better and worse—and that the narrative structure advances her characterization. The story is technically told from the perspective of a bard but most of his narrative is actually Tea telling her tale, and there are brief glimpses of Tea from his viewpoint in the present showing how much she’s changed since the beginning of her story. I’m looking forward to finding out how it all ends in The Shadow Glass.


The dramatic finale to The Bone Witch series! Tea’s dark magic eats away at her, but she must save the one she loves most, even while her life―and the kingdoms―are on the brink of destruction.

In the Eight Kingdoms, none have greater strength or influence than the asha, who hold elemental magic. But only a bone witch has the power to raise the dead. Tea has used this dark magic to breathe life into those she has loved and lost…and those who would join her army against the deceitful royals. But Tea’s quest to conjure a shadowglass, to achieve immortality for the one person she loves most in the world, threatens to consume her.

Tea’s heartsglass only grows darker with each new betrayal. Her work with the monstrous azi, her thirst for retribution, her desire to unmask the Faceless―they all feed the darkrot that is gradually consuming her heartsglass. She is haunted by blackouts and strange visions, and when she wakes with blood on her hands, Tea must answer to a power greater than the elder asha or even her conscience. Tea’s life―and the fate of the kingdoms―hangs in the balance.

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
Ancestral Night (White Space #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Interview with Elizabeth Bear about Ancestral Night
Scheduled Release Date: March 5 (US), March 7 (UK)

I’m very excited about this upcoming space opera by Elizabeth Bear—she’s one of my favorite authors due to her thoughtful stories and elegant prose!


A space salvager and her partner make the discovery of a lifetime that just might change the universe in this wild, big-ideas space opera from multi award-winning author Elizabeth Bear.

Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law…usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence—with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

Energetic and electrifying, Ancestral Night is a dazzling new space opera, sure to delight fans of Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, and Peter F. Hamilton.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
Scheduled Release Date: March 12

The Bird King, acclaimed author G. Willow Wilson’s upcoming novel set during the Spanish Inquisition, sounds amazing. (This is another book I’m drawn to due to the combination of history and fantasy.)


From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.


Last year wasn’t as strong a year for books as 2017 in terms of quantity or quality of those read, but there are still plenty of books worth highlighting! (And, although there may not be as many books finished, there were many more sampled and set aside.)

About half the books I read last year are ones I enjoyed and would recommend without reservation, but there are eight of those that stand out to me as being especially notable. Without further ado, here are my very favorite books of 2018!

Book of the Year

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

1. Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha #1) by Tasha Suri
My Review

Though I read three books that I absolutely LOVED this year, Tasha Suri’s wonderful debut is the one that stands out to me as the most memorable and deeply affecting. Inspired in part by Mughal India, Empire of Sand is the story of a young woman who is forced into an arranged marriage and bound to serve the Empire because she possesses magic that is rare even among other descendants of the gods’ children like herself. It’s also the story of the ways in which she and her new husband fight back against evil and injustice—not with the strength of force and weapons, but with the strength of hearts and minds—while gradually falling in love. It’s a fantastic, elegantly written, character-driven book that explores themes of resistance and oppression, choice, and the strength of bonds between people, and as much as I appreciated all of that, my favorite part is the main character at its heart. Mehr shapes her own tale not just because of what she can do with her extraordinary gifts but because of who she is: her decisions, her hope, her courage, and her determination all play important roles in the story’s course and eventual outcome.

Book of the Year Runners-Up

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

2. The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire #2) by Melissa Caruso
My Review

Melissa Caruso’s debut novel, The Tethered Mage, was one of my favorite books of 2017 (also, That Book That Kept Me Reading Until 2:00 AM). Given that, I had rather high expectations for The Defiant Heir—which actually exceeded my expectations and took the series to the next level in every way. While the first book introduces the Raverran Empire and its system of weaponizing mages after Amalia accidentally bound herself to the fire mage Zaira, the second one shows more of a neighboring country ruled by powerful mages with connections to their lands. Each of these Witch Lords steals the show any time they’re present, and the one that plays the biggest role is my favorite new character: Kathe, who doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy but is so charismatic that neither Amalia nor I could help but like him anyway. Amalia and Zaira’s friendship has also developed delightfully, and the banter, camaraderie, amusing dialogue, and KATHE made for the most fun reading experience I had in 2018—although The Defiant Heir also contains high stakes, difficult choices, and DEVASTATING CONSEQUENCES.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey

3. Starless by Jacqueline Carey
My Review

Although Jacqueline Carey has written many wonderful books, Starless is my favorite of hers I’ve read so far. It’s a beautifully written story told from the perspective of Khai, revealed to be a desert god’s chosen and soul’s twin to a princess as a baby. Like all of the rare soul’s twins to a member of the royal family, Khai is trained to be the princess’ protector within the desert god’s Brotherhood—even though he would have been raised as a girl had it not been for this destiny and its long-held traditions. It begins with Khai’s early life and training (which I think is the best part partially because of Brother Yarit, chosen for a special role by the desert god to his great chagrin) and expands into an epic journey after he meets the princess. This thick standalone novel explores this world of gods and prophecies but also gender identity, honor, fate, love, redemption, and the necessity of change and progress—and while I felt that the phrase “Love as thou wilt” from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books was applicable here, Starless would be best summarized as “Be as thou wilt.”

Additional Favorites

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

4. Mirage (Mirage #1) by Somaiya Daud

I don’t yet have a review to link since I’ve been struggling to write one that I feel does this book justice. Mirage, Somaiya Daud’s debut, is heart wrenching and gorgeously written with a voice that reflects the main protagonist’s poetic soul. It’s narrated by Amani, a young woman who is suddenly ripped away from her family and her home moon without any explanation. The servants of the conquering Empire who abducted her take her to Princess Maram, and Amani discovers that she looks like the Emperor’s daughter—and is expected to pretend to be the princess at potentially dangerous public functions. My favorite part of this book is Amani, who does not have any special abilities but ends up in an unusual situation merely because she resembles the princess, yet manages to have an impact on those around her because of her deep inner strength and compassion. (I love these types of characters.) The growth of Amani’s complicated relationship with the princess is the highlight of the book, and I also very much appreciated the depiction of Amani’s faith.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

5. City of Lies (The Poison Wars #1) by Sam Hawke
My Review

City of Lies, Sam Hawke’s debut novel, is a wonderful fantasy mystery with an intriguing premise and compelling three-dimensional protagonists. It follows two siblings—one who is secretly a poison detection expert and the other who is secretly a spy—as they try to uncover who poisoned their uncle and the Chancellor and why, as well as why their city is under siege by what would appear to be their own people. Given that it revolves around murder, war, and betrayal, City of Lies may sound grim, but it’s actually an optimistic book with main characters who sincerely want to listen, learn, and address any grievances their people may have. As much as I loved the two main characters and their close friend, the Chancellor’s heir, my favorite character of all was one introduced later in the story: Hadrea, who does not mince words about she thinks.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

6. The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R. F. Kuang
My Review

The Poppy War, R. F. Kuang’s debut novel, is partially based on the Second Sino-Japanese War; as such, to call it “dark” is a bit of an understatement. It follows Rin, a war orphan who determines to score highly enough on a test to get into an elite military academy and does so—but finds that, as difficult as mastering the Four Noble Subjects was, getting into the academy was the easy part compared to her classes and (later) actual war. It examines how war changes people, for better and worse—with heavy emphasis on worse—and I especially appreciated the handling of Rin’s choices. No matter how horrible they are, they are completely hers: they aren’t brushed off as being influenced by the gods or made in ignorance, and they have consequences. This disturbing, gutsy book is definitely one of my most memorable reading experiences of 2018.

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

7. Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor #2) by Mark Lawrence
My Review

Red Sister, the First Book of the Ancestor, was my Book of the Year Runner-Up last year (and That Book I Kept Recommending Throughout 2017). Though I didn’t feel that Grey Sister was quite as compelling as the previous installment, I still enjoyed continuing Nona’s story very much and absolutely loved the second half. In particular, I appreciated the focus on strength and power taking a variety of forms and how the nuns exhibit these in different ways: though Abbess Glass isn’t a badass warrior like many of the others, she is just as badass as any of them due to her inner steel. I’ve become very invested in Nona, Abbess Glass, and some of the other characters, and I also loved the emphasis on friendship and the strength that comes from people working together.

Circe by Madeline Miller

8. Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe is a powerfully, beautifully written novel told from the perspective of the titular Greek goddess. It covers a huge span of time, chronicling her childhood, her discovery of her abilities with transformation, her exile to the island, and various encounters with gods and heroes. Especially earlier in the novel, Circe doesn’t always see the world around her clearly, and her gradual understanding of the reality of the way things are and her desire to belong and connect are sympathetic and palpable. Most of all, I loved the lyrical writing and the feminist exploration of Circe’s story, goddesses within the Greek pantheon, and other women from Greek mythology.


Book Description:

In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman’s historical fantasy series, the fate of worlds lies in the balance. When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos…and the Library.

When Irene returns to London after a relatively straightforward book theft in Germany, Bradamant informs her that there is a top secret dragon-Fae peace conference in progress that the Library is mediating, and that the second-in-command dragon has been stabbed to death. Tasked with solving the case, Vale and Irene immediately go to 1890s Paris to start their investigation.

Once they arrive, they find evidence suggesting that the murder victim might have uncovered proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. But to ensure the peace of the conference, some Librarians are being held as hostages in the dragon and Fae courts. To save the captives, including her parents, Irene must get to the bottom of this murder–but was it a dragon, a Fae, or even a Librarian who committed the crime?

The Mortal Word is the fifth book in Genevieve Cogman’s delightful Invisible Library series, in which the Library that exists outside of space and time maintains balance throughout the multiverse via book hoarding. These novels follow one of the organization’s agents, Irene Winters, whose position involves collecting (i.e., stealing) rare titles and one-of-a-kind editions from various alternate worlds and adding them to the Library’s stockpile (though she does also read many of them, as someone who appreciates a good book). In the course of her work as a spy and thief, Irene uses her quick wits and skill with the Language—which allows Librarians to alter reality to an extent via precise phrasing—to navigate unfamiliar worlds and effectively manage unexpectedly absurd situations.

Irene’s adventures, practical approach, and logical-yet-amusing observations make the Invisible Library series incredibly fun, and I enjoyed the first four books immensely. However, I did feel that The Mortal Word did not play to the series’ strengths as well as the previous novels and is therefore the weakest of the five, despite the readability of the first and final few chapters.

In this installment, Irene is charged with investigating a murder that occurred during a clandestine peace conference. The Library has been secretly mediating an agreement between the orderly dragons and the chaotic Fae that would result in an unprecedented peace between these two opposing powers. But their tenuous truce may be exchanged for all-out war after the leading dragon king’s assistant is killed. As part of a small team with renowned human detective Peregrine Vale, a dragon investigator, and a rakish Fae, Irene must not only find whoever is responsible for the dragon’s death but conduct the search in a way that will not further escalate tensions—or the ensuing conflict could literally shatter the world(s).

Though The Mortal Word sounds exciting with a story revolving around (successful and attempted) dragon assassinations and Fae machinations, it dragged at times. The opening chapter, in which Irene deliberately gets herself imprisoned by a witch hunter in order to swipe a book from his private library, is quite entertaining, and events do become more consistently interesting throughout the last 80 pages or so. Yet the middle parts are very uneven with a large focus on investigation and discussion of the investigation without enough charming banter or character interactions to keep it from getting tedious. There are occasionally some good parts sandwiched between the beginning and end (such as events during the dinner party), but it does seem as though this section’s pacing is slow overall.

There are three main reasons I did not find this novel as compelling as its predecessors:

  1. There is a distinct lack of covert operations and undercover shenanigans.
    Irene is most in her element when spying and thieving—and when she’s having fun facing these challenges, I’m having fun reading about them! This is probably why I found the first chapter to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire book.
  2. The setting was generic and had little impact on the story.
    This alternate world’s Paris was not particularly fantastic and didn’t stand apart as its own version of the city, possibly at least partially because Irene spent a lot of time at the various delegation’s hotels. Though it makes sense that this particular location may not be the most extraordinary given why it was selected, this also means that it’s missing part of what makes these books so engaging: spending time in a variety of worlds.
  3. It rehashed themes and questions from the previous book without developing them further.
    The fourth book had some focus on whether or not the Library could truly be impartial and neutral given that it’s composed of individuals with biases and weaknesses. While this installment largely approached this concept from a different angle with a new Rogue Librarian Character, it was still a major part of it, plus it’s still asking the same questions about That Revelation from the end of the third book. Even though I suspect I have a general idea about where this is heading, I’m ready for some answers—or at least some progress toward getting some answers!

The Mortal Word is my least favorite installment in the Invisible Library series to date since there are some rather dull parts, but it had enough intrigue to keep me interested in reading the sixth volume (especially since, at this point, I am invested in finding out what happens to Irene!).

My Rating: 6/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Mortal Word

Reviews of the Previous Books in the Invisible Library Series:

  1. The Invisible Library
  2. The Masked City
  3. The Burning Page
  4. The Lost Plot

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (often these are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

One finished copy and two ARCs showed up last week—all of which sound fantastic! But first, here’s last week’s new review in case you missed it (I LOVED this book):

  • Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri — “Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri’s fantasy debut novel inspired by Mughal India, is magnificent. Though there is plenty of darkness within its pages, there is also an abundance of light as the main characters fight back against evil and injustice—not with the strength of force and weapons, but with the strength of hearts and minds. It’s a wonderful exploration of themes like choice and connection, and it’s also a treasure trove of rich storytelling with its vibrant characters and relationships, fascinating world, and beautiful writing.”

And now, the latest book arrivals!

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso

The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire #3) by Melissa Caruso

The final book in the Swords and Fire trilogy will be released on April 30, 2019 (trade paperback, ebook).

The publisher’s website has excerpts from the first two books in the series:

  1. The Tethered Mage (2018 Gemmell Morningstar Award Finalist)
  2. The Defiant Heir

The Unbound Empire is one of THE 2019 releases I am most excited about since The Defiant Heir is one of my absolute favorite books of 2018. I have reviewed both of the previous novels:

  1. The Tethered Mage — “The Tethered Mage is a fantastic first novel that particularly excels at characters, worldbuilding, and telling the type of compelling story that leads to late-night-to-early-morning binge reading.” (I stayed up until 2:00 AM reading it because I HAD to know how it ended!)
  2. The Defiant Heir — “The Tethered Mage is an excellent debut novel that set a high bar for its followup, but The Defiant Heir takes the series to the next level in every way.” (Kathe, a character introduced in this installment, made things very interesting…)

I was also pretty excited to see the recent news that Melissa Caruso is writing another trilogy set in this world!


The final volume of the Gemmell Morningstar Award-shortlisted Swords and Fire fantasy trilogy, in which political scion Amalia and her bound fire warlock Zaira must save the Empire from a ruthless, magical enemy. Perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce, The Queen of the Tearling, and Uprooted.

While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.

To stand a chance of defeating Ruven, Amalia and Zaira must face their worst nightmares, expose their deepest secrets, and unleash Zaira’s most devastating fire.

Terran Tomorrow by Nancy Kress

Terran Tomorrow (Yesterday’s Kin #3) by Nancy Kress

The conclusion to the Yesterday’s Kin trilogy, which grew from Nancy Kress’ Nebula Award–winning novella Yesterday’s Kin, is out now (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has excerpts from all three books in the series:

  1. Tomorrow’s Kin
  2. If Tomorrow Comes
  3. Terran Tomorrow

This is another series I’ve rather enjoyed, and I’m curious to see how it ends. I’ve reviewed the previous two books in the series, plus the original novella (which is also the beginning of the first book in the trilogy):

  • Yesterday’s Kin — “Yesterday’s Kin is a wonderful science fiction book, and it’s impressive how full the story is despite its succinctness.”
  • Tomorrow’s Kin — “Though I did feel that the first third was stronger than the new additions, Tomorrow’s Kin as a whole is both smart and engaging—once I started reading it, I had a difficult time putting it down!”
  • If Tomorrow Comes — “If Tomorrow’s Kin has some flaws…but it has its strengths as well and offers an intriguing look at how a society like Kindred’s could have come to be—and how they could have reacted to an existential threat.”

Nancy Kress returns with Terran Tomorrow, the final book in the thrilling hard science fiction trilogy based on the Nebula Award–winning novella Yesterday’s Kin.

io9―New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books You Need to Put on Your Radar for Fall

The diplomatic mission from Earth to World ended in disaster, as the Earth scientists discovered that the Worlders were not the scientifically advanced culture they believed. Though they brought a limited quantity of the vaccine against the deadly spore cloud, there was no way to make enough to vaccinate more than a few dozen. The Earth scientists, and surviving diplomats, fled back to Earth.

But once home, after the twenty-eight-year gap caused by the space ship transit, they find an Earth changed almost beyond recognition. In the aftermath of the spore cloud plague, the human race has been reduced to only a few million isolated survivors. The knowledge brought back by Marianne Jenner and her staff may not be enough to turn the tide of ongoing biological warfare.

The Unicorn Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

The Unicorn Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

The Unicorn Anthology will be released on April 19 (trade paperback, ebook).

It includes stories by Peter S. Beagle, Patricia A. McKillip, Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan, and more. The publisher’s website lists the table of contents.


Unicorns: Not just for virgins anymore. Here are sixteen lovely, powerful, intricate, and unexpected unicorn tales from fantasy icons including Garth Nix, Peter S. Beagle, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carrie Vaughn, and more. In this volume you will find two would-be hunters who enlist an innkeeper to find a priest hiding the secret of the last unicorn. A time traveler tries to corral an unruly mythological beast that might never have existed at all. The lover and ex-boyfriend of a dying woman join forces to find a miraculous remedy in New York City. And a small-town writer of historical romances discovers a sliver of a mysterious horn in a slice of apple pie.