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: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

 

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Release Date: February 7, 2017

I remember when I first heard about this novel.  It was in an email from one of the publicists at St. Martin’s, and she was trying to get us excited about the upcoming titles for Fall 2016, but she included a quick preview of Wintersong; it was the first five chapters.  I was enraptured from the first sentence.

I grew up on Labyrinth, Terry Jones and Monty Python, Bowie, and Jim Henson, so even the marketing of her saying that we’d “get introduced to the Goblin King,” peaked my interest back in September.  Side Note: I’m actually watching Labyrinth while I write this review…

First things first: S. Jae-Jones is such a strong writer. Not only did she provide such a succinct world, it honestly makes it feel like this was the story that should have been told in the movie.

In a lot of ways, I think that this is the story that David Bowie wanted to tell about the Goblin King.  This might be a slight spoiler, but a quote from Bowie prior to the release of Labyrinth is particularly fitting for the character of the King in the novel, “…(he) is, at best, a romantic; but at worst, he’s a spoiled child, vain and temperamental (sic)…I think he has inherited his Kingdom of Goblins reluctantly, and runs it under duress.”

I know I keep talking about the movie, and I will more later, but let me focus specifically on the novel itself.  Jae-Jones weaves music into the narrative as if it gives the story its soul.  The German roots of the story and the use of it’s language give it so much authenticity and contributes so much to putting the reader immediately within the story world.  Jae-Jones has truly created something extraordinary and a narrative that will stay with you.  This is a novel that I’d want to live in regardless of the peril and darkness. Her lyrical word choice and the eloquent sentence structure is that of true beauty and art. It’s been a long time since a novel has touched me as deeply as Wintersong.

While, yes, it pays deference to the movie and the original story, Jae-Jones’ take has made it so much more beautiful with a side of painful feels. I’m so glad that Jae-Jones expanded upon this enigmatic world and the Goblin King, who was such a sensual character.

Let me talk about Elisabeth.  She was everything that I wanted in a reluctant heroine/love interest.  She was talented, frustrated, and loyal as hell. If only Toby had Elisabeth instead of Sarah, Toby (Kathe) would have been saved much sooner. So many praises to Jae-Jones for creating this character and for making me adore her, flaws and all.  Those are the best types of characters, after all.

Jae-Jones’ Goblin King is a handsome, cruel lithe blonde man with dual colored eyes. Sound familiar? I’m so glad she had this homage to Bowie.  Please, please don’t think that this is all the novel is: a basic re-telling. It is SO MUCH MORE. I just really don’t want to give too much away, because I’d rather you read and fall in love on your own.  I just love both so much; so for me, knowing the movie really enriched my reading of the novel.

I want to thank S. Jae-Jones so much, for giving me back the Goblin King, and for giving the Goblin King so much more than the original story ever did. I always felt sympathy and love for him, but her novel makes everything so wonderfully complex and beautiful. I know at this point I’m repeating myself, but it is worth it to showcase how much I adored this book.

I’ll end this on the quotes from the book that saluted the movie:

“I’ve given you everything you’ve ever wanted.  I’m tired of living up to your expectations.” – The Goblin King, Wintersong
“I am exhausted from living up to your expectations.” – Jareth, Labyrinth

“I am a generous soul, Elisabeth…” The Goblin King, Wintersong
“I have been generous up until now.” – Jareth, Labyrinth

“I see the echoes of it within you.” – Elisabeth, Wintersong
“I can’t live within you.” – Jareth, Labyrinth

Seriously do yourself a favor and fall into the pages of Wintersong. You won’t regret it, I promise…or curse me to the Underground with the Goblin King.

5 Bards.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is an artist, an adrenaline junkie, and erstwhile editrix. When not obsessing over books, she can be found jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, co-hosting the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, or playing dress-up. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she now lives in North Carolina, as well as many other places on the internet, including Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Ensnared by A.G. Howard

After surviving a disastrous battle at prom, Alyssa has embraced her madness and gained perspective. She’s determined to rescue her two worlds and the people and netherlings she loves. Even if it means challenging Queen Red to a final battle of wills and wiles . . . and even if the only way to Wonderland, now that the rabbit hole is closed, is through the looking-glass world—-a parallel dimension filled with mutated and sadistic netherling outcasts.

In the final installment of the Splintered trilogy, Alyssa and her dad journey into the heart of magic and mayhem in search of her mom and to set right all that’s gone wrong. Together with Jeb and Morpheus, they must salvage Wonderland from the decay and destruction that has ensnared it. But even if everyone succeeds and comes out alive, can they all truly have their happily ever after?

Release Date: January 6, 2015

I finished Ensnared almost two months ago, but I am just now writing this review.  Why? Well, I am devastated that one of my favorite trilogies of all time has ended.  Not only have I always considered myself as an Alice in Wonderland fanatic, but I now consider myself a Splintered fanatic. This trilogy really was an immaculate reimagining of the Wonderland universe and its characters.  I don’t know if that really expresses how much I love this story, but I’ll try to get on with the review and stop gushing.

Ensnared Tweet

Ensnared does an excellent job of keeping the action up and continues to hold you in suspense for the first chapters on what exactly happened to Jeb and Morpheus when they were trapped in a dying and infected Wonderland after the envents in Unhinged.  In fact, I was kind of on the fence about which suitor I preferred when going into the final installment, but after seeing the changes in both Jeb and Morpheus in this novel, it was clear which one I preferred.  (*cough* MORPHEUS *cough*)

I’m not going to lie when I say I downright hated Jeb at the beginning of this novel.  He definitely had talked himself into a mood and rejected any feelings he had for Alyssa in the past, which made him bitter and hard.  Morpheus, on the other hand, was still the clever trickster and was just as in love with Alyssa as always.  One of my favorite characteristics of him is that he is so open about it, despite his joking tone.

Alyssa has really grown as a character since the first novel, and she is down right vicious with some of her gifts in this book.  It is really great to see her come into her own and really embrace the Wonderland side of herself.  I also really liked that her father got to get in on the action in this book instead of being left behind at home.  I like that Howard really connected and brought her parents respective stories together and showcased their relationship with one another as well.

Howard just did a fantastic job. I cannot go into more or I’ll likely give away some plot points that are vital and I’d hate to ruin your reading experience!

5 Bards

fivebards

P.S. Howard informed me that there is a novella coming, so I don’t have to be too sad yet!

 

 

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