Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Olive the Lionheart by Brad Ricca

First Lines: This is a true story. For nearly one hundred years, the diaries of Olive MacLeod lay hidden on a locked shelf in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye.
In 1910, Scottish aristocrat Olive MacLeod received word that her fiancé, famed naturalist Boyd Alexander, was missing in Africa. Instead of staying at home, wringing her hands and worrying, Olive set off to find him. She and her companions, the Talbots, found themselves confronting life in Africa in all its many forms. From contrary wildlife to wily tribal chiefs to shadowy colonial powers to an Arab warlord who may hold the key to what happened to her fiancé, Olive's journey is an unforgettable one deep into Africa and her own heart.
I have always had a weakness for the travel tales of Victorian and Edwardian ladies, especially in Africa, and when I learned that Olive MacLeod's diaries had been tucked away on a shelf in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye for a century, I was hooked. I spent one unforgettable week in the Laundry Cottage, and each morning when I opened the curtains, I looked across a finger of the loch to see Dunvegan Castle towering above me. I simply had to read Olive the Lionheart.
Olive kept a detailed record of her travels in Africa. Other than hoping to find Boyd Alexander alive, it was her intention to write a book about him. When it was time to return home, her focus had changed. The book was going to be about herself. And why not? Olive wasn't just on a rescue mission, she was an explorer, the first white person to find various locales like MacLeod Falls which is named for her. 

Olive had to feel like Rapunzel for her long red hair fascinated the native tribes she encountered, and she was constantly asked to let down her hair so they could see it and marvel at it. She adopted two lion cubs that went with her on her travels, and for a time, she also had a young giraffe named Josephine who would attack anyone who raised a gun to shoot something. Finding Boyd Alexander's journals was revelatory for her, sometimes painfully so, and I think reading them was one reason why she changed her focus on the book she wanted to write.

Brad Ricca gives a fully-fleshed portrait of Olive MacLeod, one that is often humorous-- as when she meets a local African queen whom she doesn't think is ugly until the woman refuses to answer her questions-- and sometimes sad. This woman was suffering from grief, depression, and suicidal thoughts, yet she refused to give in, always forging ahead. 

I'm glad I read Olive the Lionheart for Olive MacLeod stands shoulder to shoulder with the other intrepid Victorian and Edwardian ladies I've read about. However, I have a feeling that I'm one of the few people who did not care for the narrator of the book. I found her British and Scottish accents as well as some of her "voices" annoying, and it put me off listening to the book. I'm glad I didn't give up; otherwise, I would not have met this incredible woman.

Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa
Narrated by Billie Fulford-Brown
Macmillan Audio © 2020
Audiobook. 11 hours, 31 minutes.

Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Chirp Books


  1. I do like a good historical novel, Cathy. And I know just what you mean about strong Victorian and Edwardian female characters. There's something about them that can be really refreshing. Interesting point about the narrator; I wonder how often we read (and enjoy) books, but don't like the narrator that much. Hmmmm...

    1. I've found that, if the narrator annoys me, it really slows down my listening speed.

  2. This sounds like an excellent choice for Nonfiction November! I may get it as an audiobook, but I'm leery of your comments about the narrator. At any rate, I do want to read this one.

    1. I think you'd enjoy it. I'm wondering if there were photos and other illustrations because Olive took her camera with her on her travels. That would be a plus for reading it in physical or digital form instead of the audiobook version.

  3. I love an intrepid Victorian explorer, too. And the fact that she went to Africa to search for her fiance and ended up seeing so much of the continent...count me in on this one! :)

  4. Travel and history combined is the perfect description of some of my nonfiction favorites, so I'm glad to know about this one. And since I'll read a printed copy, I don't have to worry about the narrator's voice ;)

    1. That's one way of getting around it. ;-) I do know that if I had a print copy or eBook handy, I would have abandoned the audiobook.


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