Cover Crush: Olive the Lionheart by Brad Ricca

My thoughts on the cover and my overall impression about my first glimpse of the story description: 

Although the cover reminds me a bit of a movie poster (maybe it’s the positioning of the fonts?), I still love it and the colors used. If you read the book description below, even the main character is a, “Redhead.” That one got a smile out of me. Now, it would have been hilarious if the character’s name was, “Auburn.”  As in, “Auburn the Lionheart.” Ha! I’m getting a kick out of this week’s cover crush write up! On a sober note, is there not enough contrast in the layout? Hmm…Or maybe the ladies color of dress and travel trunk does the trick? Or is it her looking off to the distance of a new world unknown to her? See how her upper body is slightly turned with her left arm behind her back? Its as if she is unsure she should continue on, knowing the dangers she obviously will be facing. Regardless, the cover definitely has a dramatic effect going on.

I’m curious as to how the author portrays Olive-since this is based on a true story- and if she will be another predictable heroine I often see in stories or how will the author portray the different cultures mentioned. However, the story does draw on Olive’s own letters and secret diaries so there is that. Will this story truly be real life like or will it be sugar coated so not to offend anyone? If you know the history of Africa during that time or of anytime, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Also, I’m invested in keeping an eye on how this story influences readers. Having said all this, St. Martin Press is one of my favorite publishers because they tend to publish quality stories. The gist of what I’ve read from the description below is that Olive the Lionheart entails jungles, swamps, cities, deserts, letters, secret diaries, cobras, crocodiles, wise native chiefs, a murderous leopard cult, a haunted forest, and even two adorable lion cubs. Whew, that is a lot to digest. Sign me up! -Stephanie

Olive the LionheartOlive the Lionheart

Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman’s Journey to the Heart of Africa

by Brad Ricca

St. Martin’s Press

Biographies & Memoirs

Pub Date 11 Aug 2020


In 1910, Olive MacLeod, a thirty-year-old, redheaded Scottish aristocrat, received word that her fiancé, the famous naturalist Boyd Alexander, was missing in Africa.

So she went to find him.

Olive the Lionheart is the thrilling true story of her astonishing journey. In jungles, swamps, cities, and deserts, Olive and her two companions, the Talbots, come face-to-face with cobras and crocodiles, wise native chiefs, a murderous leopard cult, a haunted forest, and even two adorable lion cubs that she adopts as her own. Making her way in a pair of ill-fitting boots, Olive awakens to the many forces around her, from shadowy colonial powers to an invisible Islamic warlord who may hold the key to Boyd’s disappearance. As these secrets begin to unravel, all of Olive’s assumptions prove wrong and she is forced to confront the darkest, most shocking secret of all: why she really came to Africa in the first place.

Drawing on Olive’s own letters and secret diaries, Olive the Lionheart is a love story that defies all boundaries, set against the backdrop of a beautiful, unconquerable Africa.

This book is avaible for request at NetGalley.

Last week’s Cover Crush

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated by Erin at Historical Fiction Reader 

Other book bloggers who participated in the great cover crushes series. 

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

(All book reviews, interviews, guest posts, art work and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie.)

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Gwen Dandridge

The Stone Lions

Stephanie: Hey, Gwen! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion! That is wonderful and what high praise indeed for your story. How did you discover indieBRAG?

Please tell your audience about your book?

Gwen: The Stone Lions is a multi-cultural fantasy that takes place in the late 1300s in Islamic Spain. As a minor note, it also teaches band symmetry so it is idea for the common core curriculum. It can be read as a pure fantasy or used to understand historic Islamic culture or teach symmetry. There are levels upon levels that it touches. Here’s the basic story:

In the last throes of the 14th century, Islamic Spain is under pressure from Castile and Aragon. Ara, the twelve-year old daughter to the Sultan, finds herself in the center of a political intrigue when her eunuch tutor is magically transformed by the evil Wazir.

Can a little girl save her friend and tutor with the help of a Sufi mathemagician? Intertwined in a mystery of math, art and magic, Ara races to find the seven broken symmetries before time runs out.

Stephanie: What genre would you say this falls under and why did you chose the middle age group to write the story for?

Gwen: The genre is fantasy.

I was asked to write a book for younger readers by a Dartmouth math professor that would teach band symmetry. As someone who is wary of any math, I wanted to make the math part so organic to the story that it didn’t feel like a lesson, but more of a mystery or a puzzle.

Stephanie: Are there any messages in your book you would like your readers to grasp?

Gwen: Perhaps two messages. One, that people throughout time and cultures have the same basic desires and hopes. And, two, that math is something other than numbers. Arithmetic is numbers, math is not necessarily so constrained.

Stephanie: Why did you chose Alhambra in the late 14h century for your period and setting for the story?

Gwen: I was visiting the Alhambra with friends when I started the story. I fell so in love with the place and the design work that it tumbled out from there. The patterning on the wall and floors and ceiling were inescapable and awesome. I chose the 14th century because it was a time of flowering for the Islam. They were ahead of their time then, women could inherit (which they couldn’t in Europe), they allowed other religions to exist (as long as they paid a tax), they bathed (European weren’t quite so clean). Interestingly some women in other area of Europe also were veiled during that time.

Stephanie: Tell me about the little Islamic girl named Ara, who is the Sultan’s daughter? What are her strengths and weaknesses and what is an example of her life in the palace?

Gwen: Ara is curious and a little impulsive. She’s a risk taker. She’s someone who has lived a life of privilege within the confines of her time and culture. And she wishes for more: more freedom, more learning and more knowledge. I picked her age as young enough to have some freedom within her world. She not reached the age when she is cloistered with the harem or required to wear a hijab.

Stephanie: How does art/math play a role in your story?

Gwen: The math is the heart of the story. The symmetries within the Alhambra are being broken and Ara must repair them or the Alhambra will fall.

Stephanie: What are the historical significances in your story?

Gwen: Gosh, so much. I tried to be true to the time and culture. Grenada was under pressure from all sides at that time. But it was a time of great beauty.

So many, many of the details that you see in there are lifted from information that I learned during this process.

Stephanie: How did you research the Islamic life in the period this story is written in? And what fascinates you about the culture?

Gwen: I read over thirty books on Islamic culture and history.

I went to museums here in California, in NY, in Spain, in France and England. There I was able to see what kind of art existed during that time period. I took an art history class on Islamic art.

I spoke to a Sufi and she read an early version of The Stone Lions for me. I joined the Medievalist History listserv and looked over their shoulders.

I communicated with an expert of the Alhambra who is a professor in Spain. He helped me with details of what the Alhambra looked like during that time.

During my travels I’ve discovered hidden gems of stories that we aren’t exposed to here in the states. Everywhere you go, whether it’s a small town in Mississippi or deep in the Scottish highlands there are stories waiting to be gleaned. Everyone has a story.

Stephanie: Tell me about the photo shoot of all the images in the original Owen Jones book on the Alhambra you did and how does this relate to your story?

Gwen: When I wrote the book, I realized I would need lots of images for the symmetries. I wanted them to have a connection to the Alhambra. Not all are, but my daughter and her husband helped me photograph each page of the Owen Jones book. Santa Barbara City College did an interlibrary loan for me so that I could have access to that book. I couldn’t remove it from the library but we could carefully turn each page of this delicate and huge book while one of us stood on a chair and photographed page by page.

Stephanie: When you spent two weeks in Spain, what are some of the sites you visited and what was your impressions of them. And did this help you with your story?

One of the cool things we did in Spain was live in a cave, the Sacramento Caves. You can rent them and they have bedrooms and a bath. It is very dark when the light are off.

We also travel to Cordoba and went to the Great Mosque there.

Stephanie: What was your writing process for this story and how long did you take to write it?

Gwen: At that time I worked as a systems’ analyst so I had limited time to write. I made sure to sit down three times a day for twenty minutes each to write. Sometimes I wrote on my lunch break. It took me about nine months to get a strong draft with all the images done. I was pushing a deadline as it was going to be used in a patterning class at Dartmouth.

Stephanie: Who are your influences? What are you currently reading?

Gwen: I read a lot of fantasy.

Stephanie: How much time weekly do you spend on writing and how much time do you spend on research?

Gwen: It depends on the book. The Stone Lions was the most intensive for research. I had to learn symmetry and Islamic history and culture. It took a huge amount of time. Fortunately, a number of my friends are professors of chemistry and math and they spend oodles of time teaching me symmetry so that I could, in turn, explain it to middle grade readers.

Normally I try to write every day, but I also do art, so many things via for time. When I am focused on a book, I do write every day. I drag my manuscript around with me wherever I go.

Stephanie: Have you ever come across anything unexpected or something that caught you off guard in your research?

Gwen: Many, many times. I hadn’t known the Lions’ fountain that is currently in the Court of the Lions was not the original one. It was stolen centuries ago.

Stephanie: How do you organize your research?

Gwen: When I research, I keep notes of anything that I find interesting. I’m not very organized. I do own a lot of books, so I can always return to them when I need a particular piece on information.

Stephanie: What is up next for you?

Gwen: The second book of The Stone Lions (The Jinn’s Jest) is almost ready to fly. I also have a book that is ready, The Dragons’ Chosen. I’m hoping this will be out soon.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Amazon or B&N or most of the online dealers have it available.

Stephanie: Thank you, Gwen!

About Author:

Gwen Dadridge-BRAG

My romance with fantasy was started when at age eight I discovered libraries, in libraries were fairy tale books. After that, I always expected to find a fairy beneath each flower, each rustle of leaves.

From there I went on to Walter Farley’s Stallion books. But my love went into a full blown affair at an Outward bound trip when half-way down the Colorado River one of the men talked about reading the Hobbit. I’ve been hooked on fantasy ever since.

I’ve been the SCBWI co-coordinator for Santa Barbara County and still function as the listserve administrator for the tri-county region.

My degree in psychology has only been used to understand dragons.

I worked as a system’s analyst (Oracle databases) at Santa Barbara Community College but much of my outside work time is spent doing art of various sorts: stained glass, pottery, basketry, large boulder mosaics, silk wall hangings, etc. I have a B.A. in Psychology, a two year certificate in Computer Information Systems and many classes in Writing, Art and Art History. I bake regularly and garden seriously (I have over 40 different fruit trees on the property).

Reading is my passion as is notable by the walls of books in my house.

My golden retriever and my husband keep me active hiking and roaming the Santa Barbara hills. 

Author Links:



Author Website

Author website II

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gwen Dandridge, who is the author of, The Stone Lions, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Stone Lions, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.