Book Review & Giveway: The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

I swear, I went from reading about two contemporary bad ass women in Done Dirt Cheap to reading about bad ass women in at the height of the Roman Empire. Can we just keep these powerful female narratives flowing?  All of them have a reader in me!

In all honesty, I’ve never seen Gladiator.  I’ve never really paid a whole lot of attention this time period in history, so most of my knowledge of Julius Caesar comes from Shakespeare’s tragedy.  So to say that I had no idea of the wealth of information that can be expanded upon in this time is pretty much an understatement, but I learned so much just talking to Lesley and hearing how passionate she is on the subject.  If I didn’t have so many books to already read, I’d probably pick up a few on Ancient Rome.  Although, I feel like there’s probably a Wikipedia spiral on this topic in my future.

Anyway, let’s start with a bit about where Lesley got the inspiration to write about this topic (see the lovely video):

This book gave me life.

Everything about it spoke to me. I have a rough relationship with my sister, Fallon has a rough relationship with her sister.  Fallon is a bit reckless and is constantly wanting to prove herself, I have those same qualities.  I think there is a lot about this book that teenagers will take from this.  That there are always bad ass women in history that have been marginalized or forgotten due to the nature of HIStorical recording, and that women can chart their own paths. I sincerely wish this has been out when I was scheduling the books for my Feminist Book club this year, because I think it can bring a lot of great discussion about the status of women then and how this narrative can showcase the women’s movement today through its story.

Favorite tertiary character in The Valiant is by far Cleopatra.  That’s right, THE Cleopatra.  Now, she’s not in the book a whole lot, but she has one of my absolute favorite lines in the novel, one that, if I’m going to another women’s march, I might put on a sign: “A woman ought to be able to chart her own course in life.” YAS QUEEN. *bows to the queen* Also, according to Livingston, the timeline of The Valiant puts Cleopatra in her early twenties as a young mother since she and Caesar were “very close friends,” which means the narrative takes place around two years prior to the assassination of Caesar and the Ides of March (which, coincidentally, was yesterday).  Apparently this is something to remember because when I asked her about this in regards to the sequel, The Defiant, Livingston promptly started to mumble nonsense instead of answering (Seriously, I love this woman).

Livingston manages to explore the complexities of familial relationships and friendships, but the different aspects of first love and how moving on from heartbreak is hard but necessary. This entire novel is fast paced and is filled with action after action.  You will not be bored and you will fall in love with this book.

5 Bards.

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Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

There are a lot of things that we study in US and World History about World War II, but the plight of German, Prussian, Polish, and Lithuanian refugees is not something that is touched on much, and the Wilhelm Gustloff even less so. In fact, I’m sad to say that prior to the publication of Sepetys’ novel I hadn’t even heard about the Gustloff or the nine thousand people that lost their lives in the icy sea that night in 1945.

Sepetys’ story actually doesn’t focus as much on the Wilhelm Gustloff’s sinking so much as it does the journey of each of these teenagers as their stories begin to intertwine and finally converge on the ill fated last trip of the Gustloff.

This being my first Ruta Sepetys novel, despite owning both of her other novels (I know, I really need to get on top of this and read the others!), I was impressed by the utter beauty of her character development.  For the most part, these characters are orphans of war, either not knowing where their parents are, their parents have passed, or they were cast out or forced to join the war efforts.  Sepetys does an amazing job of revealing these small truths about these characters over the course of the narrative, and despite my skepticism about multiple narrators (especially when such short chapters are involved), I found the voices to be distinct enough that it added to the story.

One character is a medically trained nurse, one a mysterious boy with a secret, one an overzealous Nazi, and one a Polish girl with no one.

By all means, this is an absolutely brutal story.

Readers will encounter stories of pillage and rape, war fatalities, hypothermia, frostbite, and a lot of death.  It is a story not for the faint of heart.

Half the narrators do not survive.

In a lot of ways this novel reminds me of Margaret Haddix’s Uprising, as the story builds around very different characters caught up in each other’s fates, and it plays so well while telling the story of those forgotten by history.

For those forgotten by time, the disaster has been given more attention following the publication of Salt to the Sea, but unfortunately the majority of these poor souls’ stories will never be told.  So we have to remember them and the disaster.

The refugee tale is not one that is unimportant by any means in today’s political climate, and it is vital to remember that their plights are not just a tale out of time.

5 Bards for this heartbreaking story that still manages to provide hope








Book Review: Tarnish by Katherine Longshore

Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. 

Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court—and to convince the whole court they’re lovers—she accepts. 

Before long, Anne’s popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice—but she also wants love. What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart’s desire and the chance to make history. 

Oh Anne Boleyn.  How you’ve always fascinated me and how excited I was when I discovered you in my family tree last year when I was tracing my ancestry.  (That’s right!  Super diluted Boleyn blood in the house! Definitely not enough to really count, I’m sure) But either way, it was very cool to think that one of the greatest rulers that England ever had is a distant cousin of mine. 

At first I was worried about reading this novel for fear of getting attached to Anne and then having to read up until her death.  This was especially a fear for me considering Anne herself is the narrator, and not a third party.  However, Longshore pleasantly surprised me with the main subject of this novel: Anne’s much disputed early years in court and her relationships prior to Henry VIII. 

While the Showtime show, The Tudors, really explored some of the relationships between Anne, her brother, sister, and her father (although I’m not sure how historically accurate that could have been, but it was entertaining), I think that Longshore’s depiction was much more sympathetic than that on the Tudors, and I would really love to imagine that some of those toxic relationships made Anne strive for the love and attention that being queen would give her.  But the novel really showcased Anne’s relationship with Lady Jane, Thomas Wyatt, and Henry and it was really entertaining to see the King slowly become enamored with one of the most infamous of his future wives. 

Just remember that this novel is historical fiction. Longshore does a great job of explaining her motivation behind writing this novel and showing the world the young and vulnerable Anne Boleyn.  I loved it.  I loved Gilt, and now I positively adore Tarnish.  I cannot wait until Longshore puts out more Tudor novels (I’m refusing to believe that it isn’t happening!) or just more novels in general! 

5 Bards. 

Book Review: Gilt by Katherine Longshore

In the court of King Henry VIII, nothing is free– and love comes at the highest price of all. 

When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. 

No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

It’s no secret that the Tudor dynasty in England is one of my favorite time periods (followed shortly by Victorian England), so when I read the synopsis of Gilt I knew I would have to read it. 

Catherine Howard is probably the wife I learned the least about when studying Henry VIII’s reign in history classes, and even a fictional account of her rise to power in the court taught me a lot about the historical information that Longshore used in constructing this novel. 

I was a little surprised that the narrator of the novel was not going to be Catherine, but her friend, Kitty.  However, I do think that this was an extremely good move on Longshore’s part.  Not only is Kitty able to give us insight into how Catherine was raised and her life before court, but we are given a lot of detail concerning her personality.  Cat, in this depiction, wants to be remembered as more than just a Howard and to be adored by men and women of higher birth than she.  And as we all know from history, Cat gets everything she wants. 

The narrative was extremely well plotted and the time line was impeccable based on the historical facts that do exist concerning Cat and her arrival at court and her eventual marriage to King Henry VIII.  She certainly had her sights set high, didn’t she?  I was concerned that it might be hard for the reader to understand how a young adult could be swayed to marry a man who was more than a bit older than the protagonist and one who was notorious for his affairs and treatment of his wives.  However, Longshore did a great job of focusing on how the allure of royalty for Cat was all of the opulence, parties, and courtly intrigue–instead of focusing on a relationship between the King and his extremely young bride. 

Kitty did not just serve as a narrator, but as a victim of the court and King Henry’s wrath at the end of the novel.  I found myself much more attached to Kitty than I was to Cat, and I think that the ending was extremely satisfying for Kitty supporters.  Be aware that going into this novel that Catherine Howard was executed by King Henry VIII, and that this story is as true to history as it can be. 

4 Bards. 

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is

Top Ten Books with Historical Settings

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

World War II Germany in the midst of the Holocaust 

2. The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
Edwardian England & World War I England

3. This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
Regency Era in England, prior to the Victorian Era. 

4. Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Late 19th Century Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

5. The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell
Late 19th Century America, Oklahoma Territory

6. The Other Countess by Eve Edwards
Elizabethan England

7. The Girl with the Iron Touch by Kady Cross
Victorian Era England

8. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Victorian Era England

9. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Victorian Era England

10. The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Victorian Era England

It appears I have a bit of thing for Historical Fiction set in England! What are some of your favorite historical settings? 

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. 

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The second of book I am reading from Molly Horan’s collection of the 15 Young-Adult Books Every Adult Should Read is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. 

There are very few times in my life where a historical event really affects me. History is taught so clinically that the events seem so factual, not human, and almost not relatable. The two times I have become emotionally involved in the past have been because I read a fictional book that used that setting or event as the background for the story. The first time this happened was when I read Lamb by Christopher Moore. The next was today, as I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. 

There is so much to say about this book that I am having trouble putting it into words. Markus Zusak did such an incredible job describing what the life of an everyday German was like during the time of Hitler and WWII. I really had never even thought about the ordinary people. When you think of Germany in WWII you think about the Jews, Anne Frank, or the Nazis. History books just don’t talk about how life was, or that there were a lot of people in Germany that didn’t agree with the propaganda, but had no choice but to comply with the laws. 

The character development was also phenomenal. It blows my mind. And when bad things started to happen to the characters as a result of the poverty or air raids it just grips your heart and tears you to pieces. I think it affects me so much because on a logical level I know that events in the book happened in real life, maybe not exactly like that but there were real innocent people in bomb shelters, and losing family to the war or malnutrition. In my lifetime I will never experience that kind of reality, but through this book I lived it in my mind and in my heart. 

This is the type of book that as you are reading it, you want so badly for the ending to be happy. But I am glad it isn’t. This way it’s more relatable and true to history. I in fact had to double check that this was a Fictional book and was not based on someone (Liesel’s) life story. I did learn that the author took stories his parents told of Germany and integrated them into the story, which explains how realistic the book is. 

The other significant part of this book is the Narration. You would expect that the main character (Liesel) to be the Narrator as it is her story. But I think making Death the narrator and really humanizing him made the book better. He leaves little insights and tidbits that resonate with the reader. For he is reluctant and tired, at the same time he is respectful and gentile and invested in one little girl. For him to be so busy but take time to check in on one human means there is something special about her. 

I think this book is one of those that you read as a young adult and then again as an adult when you can read it without having to write a report on analyze it. This is a must read for both young adults and older adults. It is heart wrenching and thought provoking. 

5 Bards.

This review was submitted to A Midsummer Night’s Read by Missy

Book Review: The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

Lora Jones has always known that she’s different. On the outside, she appears to be an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Yet Lora’s been keeping a heartful of secrets: She hears songs that no one else can hear, dreams vividly of smoke and flight, and lives with a mysterious voice inside her that insists she’s far more than what she seems. 

England, 1915. Raised in an orphanage in a rough corner of London, Lora quickly learns to hide her unique abilities and avoid attention. Then, much to her surprise, she is selected as the new charity student at Iverson, an elite boarding school on England’s southern coast. Iverson’s eerie, gothic castle is like nothing Lora has ever seen. And the two boys she meets there will open her eyes and forever change her destiny. 

Jesse is the school’s groundskeeper—a beautiful boy who recognizes Lora for who and what she truly is. Armand is a darkly handsome and arrogant aristocrat who harbors a few closely guarded secrets of his own. Both hold the answers to her past. One is the key to her future. And both will aim to win her heart. As danger descends upon Iverson, Lora must harness the powers she’s only just begun to understand, or else lose everything she dearly loves.

There are a few ways to guarantee that I will pick up a copy of your book, or download a kindle copy: have it set in Victorian or early 20th century England, use an asylum as a setting, and have a main character that I can emotionally connect to. 

This novel has two of those three criteria, and I can tell you that these aspects are used excellently. 

Things that Worked: Lora’s background, while still being somewhat of a mystery, is still explained wonderfully through her childhood at the orphanage.  Plus, if you know anything about English orphanages at the turn of the century, then you know how hardened a character raised in one would be.  Lora is hard-headed, self-sufficient, and a fish out of water at the boarding school she attends.  Did I mention how much fun boarding schools can make a plot line? As stereotypical as it sounds, I always tend to enjoy stories that include them.  Also, the fact that the boarding school is in an abandoned castle really helped the setting become more enigmatic with the hidden tunnels and the ridiculously romantic underground cavern. 

Jesse and Armand: the complete opposite of one another.  Jesse is poor and humble while Armand is rich and cocky. Can I say that both boys worked wonderfully and that I adore them both? I suppose there should be part of me that likes Jesse more since he was the obvious choice for Lora, and the fact that their secrets are entwined. In addition, the reader spends more time with Jesse than Armand, and the romance between Lora and Jesse is almost immediate.  Armand and Lora’s relationship burns like a slow fire, and develops over the course of the book. 

The paranormal aspect of this novel was something I wasn’t necessarily expecting considering the rarity of YA novels on the topic.  However, if I had looked into Abe’s previous works, I would have been able to guess.  I’m not going to spoil it for you, but the world building is solid, and there are just enough questions left to keep you intrigued and your appetite whetted for the sequel. 

Things that didn’t work: Well, to be honest there wasn’t a whole lot about the book I didn’t like.  I will say that the rising action was slow at some points, and I was so excited by the synopsis that I just wanted to get to the good stuff.  However, some exposition is necessary!  I really was disappointed in the fact that there was a large number of “mean girls” in this text, and that Lora really didn’t make any real female friends.  Every girl needs a best friend to have their back.  I really hope Abe includes a girlfriend for her in the subsequent books. 

4.5 Bards

Waiting on Wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: March 5, 2013

When a fire consumes Meg’s home, killing her parents and destroying both her fortune and her future, all she has left is the tarnished pocket watch she rescued from the ashes. But this is no ordinary timepiece. The clock turns out to be a mechanical key—a key that only Meg can use—that unlocks a series of deadly secrets and intricate clues that Meg is compelled to follow.

Meg has uncovered evidence of an elite secret society and a dangerous invention that some will stop at nothing to protect—and that Meg alone can destroy. Together with the handsome stable hand she barely knows but hopes she can trust, Meg is swept into a hidden world of deception, betrayal, and revenge. The clockwork key has unlocked her destiny in this captivating start to a trilogy.

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