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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Release Day Review: The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls’ father is a plant hunter, usually off adventuring through the jungles of China.

Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan fails to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid, meaning that he will be thrown into debtors’ prison and the girls will be sent to the orphanage or the poorhouse. Elodie’s father has one last chance to return to China, find the orchid, and save the family—and this time, thanks to an unforeseen twist of fate, Elodie is going with him. Elodie has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China.

But even if she can find the orchid, how can she find herself now that staid, responsible Elodie has seen how much the world has to offer?

Release Date: March 8, 2016 (TODAY!!!)

I was a huge fan of Waller’s first young adult novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly, so when Penguin sent me an advanced copy of The Forbidden Orchid, I was pretty excited.

To be honest with you, I wasn’t familiar at all with the concept of plant hunters during the Victorian Era, and here in America we learn very little about the Opium Wars.  In world history we just touch on them, and I’m pretty sure my teacher just said, “Then there was the Opium Wars. Moving on…”  I really appreciate this about Waller, because I made the same comment about A Mad, Wicked Folly.  She is really touching on subjects that American readers will benefit from learning through her historical fiction.

Some of the same themes run throughout The Forbidden Orchid as in A Mad, Wicked Folly, and there is a very similar formula.  Formula: Privileged upper middle class British teen girl + patriarchal society of England (interesting considering there was a powerful Queen on the throne during BOTH novels) + familial duties + said character’s sense of adventure/individuality + character wanting more than the privileged life she already has.  I’m totally okay with this formula in Waller’s novels, because it works.  The characters are so wonderfully developed with the flaws of those who come from privilege, and they are frequently made to check that privilege when dealing with other characters.

Similar themes that show up in both: Romance (obviously as it is a Young Adult novel), Political Climate, and Women’s Rights.  However, much like in A Mad, Wicked Folly, the romance really takes a back seat to the primary focus of the novel.  Waller is excellent at constructing a meaningful romantic relationship without having the primary plot take a hit in favor of making a character swoon constantly in narration.

Elodie really evokes some Ingrid Michaelson songs to me, as I think Michaelson has an exotic voice/sound that would really appeal to this character.  So for me, I’m going to characterize Elodie with one song:  Are We There Yet. “They say that home is where the heart is/I guess I haven’t found my home/And we keep driving round in circles/Afraid to call this place our own”  Even though Elodie has a home and lives comfortably with her family there is just something missing.  So Michaelson’s pleading voice repeating Home, Home, Home just really feels like it could be Elodie questioning her purpose in life.

Splitting the novel into parts was a great way to avoid boring narrative where the time jumps were due to the long nature of travel from England to China.  I really only found the book lagging toward the beginning, but I think it suits the dull nature of Elodie’s existence in Kent versus the quicker paced last half of the novel, as she is finally experiencing travel and plant hunting.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel and read most of it in one sitting.

4.5 Bards





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