Book Reviews

Book Review: The Christmas Play Rehearsal by Sue Wickstead

It is Christmas time, and the school has been getting ready to perform their Nativity play.

With lines learnt and songs to be sung, it is time for the dress rehearsal. The teacher knows there might be a few problems to sort out, but at least they will know what to improve on or change along the way.

The Christmas Play Rehearsal is a picture book that focuses on a class of primary School children as they prepare for their Christmas Nativity play.

This book brought back so many memories of the Nativity plays I took part in when I was in first school. (I love this time of year. I was an angel.)

Sue has captured the process perfectly – how the prep and build up can be challenging but just as much fun as the main event.

This story is so much fun and I think it is a perfect book to share with your child whether they are currently taking part in a nativity or not.

It’s also good for little ones too I think as the illustrations are very colourful and beautiful. They capture the fun element perfectly.

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Book Review: One? by Jennifer L Cahill

It’s London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual.

Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming.

Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future.

One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4.

First thing I want to mention is the amazing cover on this novel. At first glance, it seems simple and beautiful but there are so many layers to it. Look at it long enough and you’ll see what I mean.

One? primarily follows Penelope and Zara as they navigate themselves through 90’s London joined by a few people along the way.

The characters have unique voices. All have their own personal goals, triumphs and struggles. They are all developed well as is the plot. I was desperate to know what would become of them all.

I could identify so much with these two ladies especially. I found myself moving to London in my early twenties having never been away from home before so Zara’s feeling seemed partially familiar. The overwhelming feeling of being alone in a big city.

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Book Review: Cuckoo by Sophie Draper

When her stepmother dies unexpectedly, Caro returns to her childhood home in Derbyshire. She hadn’t seen Elizabeth in years, but the remote farmhouse offers refuge from a bad relationship, and a chance to start again.

But going through Elizabeth’s belongings unearths memories Caro would rather stay buried. In particular, the story her stepmother would tell her, about two little girls and the terrible thing they do.

As heavy snow traps Caro in the village, where her neighbours stare and whisper, Caro is forced to question why Elizabeth hated her so much, and what she was hiding. But does she really want to uncover the truth?

Caro has spent most of her adult life trying to escape her childhood and her step mother.

When a death brings her back to the house that holds so many unhappy memories, she begrudgingly comes back.

The welcome she gets from most of the village isn’t warm. There is something that every one is holding back. Things at the house are even stranger.

Cuckoo is the kind of thriller I love! I devoured it quickly wanting to know what happens.

The pace and style of writing is great. There is a gothic theme to it. The atmosphere that is created is wonderful.

I ended up second guessing myself a lot. I thought I had it sussed but then something would happen and I’d quickly settle on something else. It wouldn’t be long until that changed again. It seriously kept my interest all the way through.

At the beginning, I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t figure out if it was the house, the village and its inhabitants, the house or the nature of the death of her step mother. Nothing is as it seems.

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Book Review: The Lights of Time by Paul Ian Cross

Engella Rhys is alone, adrift and on the run. Pursued by a secret agency, known only as the Hunters, she must stay ahead to stay alive.

As she travels through space-time using dangerously experimental technology, she only has one wish: to be reunited with her lost parents. After a close shave with a Hunter on the streets of New Shanghai, Engella escapes to find herself on a deserted beach. When she meets a kind stranger, who offers her food and shelter, Engella feels safe and protected for the first time in years.

But who is this woman? And why did their paths cross at the most convenient of times?

Engella soon discovers their lives are intertwined in more ways than she could ever imagine.

The cover of this novel is so beautiful and I love the title.

Engella has been running from the hunters for so long, she’s started to lose track of time.

She knows she can’t hide forever. Just when she thinks she’s been caught, she gets help from an unexpected source.

This is the first book in the Chronicles of Engella Rhys series. As it is the first one, there is a lot of scene setting as well as world and character building. However, I didn’t feel like this slowed the pace of the plot down. From the beginning, I was obsessed with reading this novel.

Engella is many things. She’s mysterious, fierce, vulnerable and strong. There is more to her than we see I am sure. All of the characters seem strong actually.

I very much got immersed into this world of time travel, sci-fi and mystery.

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Book Review: #Galaxy Girl by Bev Smith

You hate school. Your family is beyond annoying. Your only friend comes from a different planet, and she’s about to leave.

What’s a girl to do?

Fed up with life on Earth, Esme stows away on the spaceship taking Stella back to Planet Kratos.

So begins Esme’s adventure into a world beyond the stars. A world of strange creatures, thrilling journeys, heroic rescues and instant fame.

Oh, and school. Lots of school.

Along the way she discovers that friends may be greener on the other side, but they still can’t be trusted.

Millions and billions of light years away from Earth, she sets in motion a plan to escape. Unfortunately for her, they aren’t about to let their prize exhibit leave anytime soon…

 

Esme doesn’t feel like she belongs either at home with her family or at school. Her only friend, Stella comes from another planet and she is about to leave.

So Esme finds herself stowing away on a spaceship back to Stella’s home planet and is not quite prepared for what awaits her.

This book is a series of letters from the main character to her mother back on earth (they have some brilliant sign offs.)

This book is marketed for the younger reader. I am in my thirties and I loved it. I feel as though it is a story for all ages.

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Book Review: Not Just For Christmas by Natalie Cox

Charlie hates the holidays, and this year is shaping up to be her worst yuletide ever.

Her boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, her flat is out of bounds after a gas leak, and her mother has gone to spend Christmas in Melbourne with her fifth husband.

Finding herself single, mildly concussed and temporarily homeless, Charlie hesitantly agrees to dust off her wellies and spend the festive season in Devon, looking after Cosy Canine Cottages, her cousin Jez’s dog-care centre.

However, her plans for a quiet rural Christmas with only the four-legged friends for company are dashed as soon as she meets Malcolm the deaf Great Dane, Hugo, his gorgeous (but engaged) owner, and Cal, the undeniably attractive but unbearably haughty and patronising local vet.

I am very happy to be kicking off the blog tour for Not Just For Christmas, the new novel by Natalie Cox which is due to be released in paperback on 29th November by Orion.

Not Just For Christmas focuses on Charlie. Having just become single, she then has to move out of her flat when it gets damaged in a gas leak. Her mother is in Melbourne, her father in Russia, Charlie has no choice but to go and spend Christmas in Devon with her cousin, Jez. She soon finds herself alone though running Cosy Canine Cottages.

The setting for this novel drew me in to begin with. I love to visit Devon and this brought back memories of lovely holidays I have spent there and the friendliness of the residents.

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Book Review: A Little Christmas Charm by Kathryn Freeman

Would you swap sea and sunshine for tinsel and turkey?

Gabby Sanderson is used to being let down – even at Christmas. Which is why she’s happy to skip the festive season completely in favour of a plane ticket and sunnier climes.

But this Christmas could be different, because this time she might not be spending it alone. Can Owen Cooper charm Gabby into loving Christmas in the same way he’s charmed his way into her life, or is he just another person who’ll end up disappointing her?

 

This book is part of the Christmas Wishes series but it is also perfect as a standalone.

Gabby is used to being disappointed and let down so she has built up a few walls around her. Instead of celebrating the season, she goes as far away as she can from the festivity. I empathise with her.

Gabby is an interesting character. She has a confidence to her but she’s also vulnerable when you dig deep enough. I wanted it to work out. Whether it’s with Owen or not, I am not going to tell. I actually warmed to Gabby a lot quicker than I did to Owen. I could tell that there were reasons she was so guarded and the more you get to know what happened to her, the more I just wanted to reach in and give her a hug.

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Book Extract: Within The Silence by Nicola Avery

It’s Friday and we have a treat today. A lovely big hello to Nicola Avery and the blog tour for her new novel, Within The Silence.

Jon Stone is a revered psychiatrist, doting husband, loving father. But he has many secrets.

Maddy Stone, Jon’s daughter, has her own secrets. But she can’t tell anyone.

Zara, Maddy’s stepsister and best friend, faces a race against time. Can she unearth the family’s dark secrets before a tragic history repeats itself?

Two girls: one living and lost, the other scarred and silent, must join forces to prevent the unspeakable…

 

I have reviewed the book below but first, Nicola has shared an extract.

 

***** start of extract*****

 

‘You’ve been swimming already!’ Pippa scolded.

‘Less of the attitude, missy,’ said Zara, unwrapping her towel just enough to envelop her wriggling, laughing sister.

‘Can we go swimming now?’ Pippa asked, her smiling face lifted towards her sister’s.

‘You can come in with me in a minute,’ answered Zara, acknowledging Jon’s presence on the pool terrace.

‘Morning, Zara,’ Jon said, moving towards her and kissing her on the cheek. ‘Did you sleep well? And where’s Gareth?’

Zara smiled. ‘Last time I looked he was flat on his back, catching flies and snoring loudly.’

‘Some of us don’t have such luck, do we?’ said Jon, pointedly looking at Pippa, who bounced off across the grass towards the pathway leading down to the beach.

‘Have you seen Maddy?’ called Pippa, looking out at the Phoenix.

‘No, I haven’t seen her yet,’ replied Zara, watching Pippa’s shoulders drop in disappointment. ‘Are you sure she’s not still asleep?’

‘Nope,’ said Pippa, returning to the patio. ‘Her bed’s made up, so she must be down on the beach or on her boat. Can I go down and get her? We’re going out to the secret beach today, and she’ll need a good breakfast. And I want to check if my stuff’s already on board.’

Zara laughed as she attempted to hold onto her excited sister. ‘Wait a moment, sweetie, you can’t go down in your PJs.’

‘Oh!’ Pippa exclaimed, laughing as she peeled off her favourite Frozen pyjamas and tossed them under the table before running to get her tiny red swimsuit which was hanging by the showers. ‘I forgot. Nearly ready,’ she shouted, wriggling into the tight costume.

‘Here, let me help you,’ Jon offered, moving towards her.

‘No thank you, Daddy. I can do it myself,’ she answered.

Zara smiled at her sister’s feisty independence – and the fact that her bathing costume straps were all twisted around one armpit. Quickly readjusting the tiny costume, Zara grinned. ‘Why don’t we leave Maddy for a bit? She could be sleeping on the beach; you know how she loves the early mornings down there. She’ll come up when she’s ready.’

‘But it’s late. We’ve got lots to do today. She told me. And I need to make sure she hasn’t forgotten our plans.’

Zara dropped to one knee, pulling Pippa towards her and kissing her on the nose. ‘It’s still early, especially after a party. I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten.’

Pippa moved away from Zara, standing perfectly still as she stared longingly out to sea. Then, turning back towards her sister, she tried again.

‘Please come with me, Zara. I can’t go down there on my own. You know Daddy’s rules …’ Pippa tilted her head in her father’s direction, then gave Zara one of her lopsided grins.

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Book Review: An Impossible Thing Called Love by Belinda Missen

A second chance at love…

When globe-trotting Emmy first fell for first-aider William on a freezing New Year’s Eve, she really believed that their love would go the distance.

But when she returns to Australia, her letters start to go unanswered and her emails bounce back unread, Emmy decides it’s time to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and start afresh in London.

So she’s shocked when William walks in on her very first day at her new job! Even worse, he’s hotter than ever. But why did he disappear for so long? What has he been hiding? And could this really be their second chance at falling in love…?

Emmy first meets William on New Years Eve. Even though she has to return home to Australia, she thinks what she and William have will go the distance even with the miles between them.

However, her letters and e-mails suddenly start going unanswered. Just like that, William is gone. Emmy is heartbroken.

She tries to start afresh in London. She’s succeeding until her path once again crosses with William.

Could this be their second chance at happiness?

I loved this book from beginning to end. I knew it was going to give me warm fuzzy feelings but also break my heart in places too.

I immediately fell in love with Emmy and William. They are both very likeable and their relationship feels realistic (even if it does move quite fast.)

The scene that is set with Edinburgh and London is incredible and pulled me into the story and it really sets the tone nicely for the whole novel.

When these two main characters lose touch, I felt as heartbroken as Emmy did. I did wonder if things were not as they seemed. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t want to give away the plot and events of the book too much as that would spoil it obviously.

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Book Extract: Thalidomide Kid by Kate Rigby

thalidomide-kid-sept-18.jpgA big lovely hello to Kate Rigby and the blog tour for her novel, Thalidomide Kid.

Daryl Wainwright is the quirky youngest child of a large family of petty thieves and criminals who calls himself ‘Thalidomide Kid’.

Celia Burkett is the new girl at the local primary school, and the daughter of the deputy head at the local comprehensive where she is bound the following September. With few friends, Celia soon becomes fascinated by ‘the boy with no arms’.

The story of a blossoming romance and sexual awakening between a lonely girl and a disabled boy, and their struggle against adversity and prejudice as they pass from primary to secondary school in 1970s Cirencester. The story deals with themes and issues that are timeless.

Kate has shared an extract today. In this excerpt, the headmistress Miss Bond reveals to Celia’s family that Celia has been seen skiving lessons school with Daryl.

****** start of extract******

When they got to the pudding – fruit salad with lychees, continuing the Chinese theme – Celia fought back tears as she racked her brain.

Her dad spoke first. “Was that you, Celia?”

“Was that me what?”

“What Barbara was just saying?”

Celia looked blank, whereupon Miss Bond repeated her question with due emphasis. “I thought I saw you yesterday, Celia, walking down the Tetbury Road during school hours with the young Wainwright boy.”

Shit bricks! Miss Bond had seen them.

“I wasn’t feeling well.” She said the first thing that came into her head. “I … had … I had a stomach ache. Daryl said he’d walk with me as far as town and I had to sit down so we went to a coffee bar. I needed to drink something.”

Her father had a look of restrained incredulity. “You didn’t tell your teacher or think of reporting to the sick bay?”

thalidomide-kid-full-tour-banner.jpgShe had no answer to this but to say: “I didn’t think. I just wanted to go home.”

“That doesn’t explain why the Wainwright boy wasn’t attending his lesson,” Dad said.

“A case of skivitis, I suspect,” said Miss Bond. “Though he shouldn’t really be treated any differently from anyone else who breaks school rules. That won’t do him any good at all.”

Celia wished they’d stop calling him the Wainwright boy. She wished they’d give him a chance instead of thinking the worst of him all the time, but the matter didn’t rest there. After Miss Bond had thanked them for a lovely evening and driven off in her Rover, her father’s smile evaporated, his face clouding over all serious.

“I mean, how d’you think it made me look,” he said, “hearing it second-hand from Barbara that my own daughter was absent from class?”

“It’s not fair. Other people don’t have to have the head telling their dads things. It’s like being spied on, isn’t it, Abby?”

But Abby was keeping out of it, collecting up the best glasses for Dad to wash, the best glasses being Dad’s department.

“Well, I want you to go upstairs immediately and write two letters of apology; firstly to the teacher whose class you missed and secondly to Barbara. Do I make myself clear?”

Mum started drying the glasses, dripping soap suds on the draining board as she picked them up. Then she said: “What were you doing with that boy anyway, Celia? We’d rather you didn’t keep that sort of company.”

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Book Review: Christmas Spirit by Nicola May

coverI am loving all the Christmas stories being released and I’m very excited to be part of the blog tour for Christmas Spirit, the novella from Nicola May. 

It’s two days before Christmas – and Evie Harris finds herself both manless and jobless. After a chance encounter with handsome Greg (and egged on by her toy-boy-eating friend, Bea) she agrees to work at a homeless shelter on Christmas Day.

Striking up an unlikely friendship with homeless Yves, Evie begins an unwitting journey of spiritual awakening, all set against the sparkling winter backdrop of London landmarks. 

A New Year’s Eve revelation is on its way . . . but will it leave Evie with a happy heart, or will she allow the pre-Christmas past to dictate her future?

Two days before Christmas, Evie has found herself without a job and without her boyfriend.

By chance, she meets Greg and ends up volunteering at a homeless shelter on Christmas Day.

This is also where she meets the mysterious Yves.

Evie embarks on a spiritual journey she doesn’t expect but could be the start of better things.

Oh my! This book.

From beginning to end this novella had me hooked. I don’t have anything bad to say about it. It’s not a long book but I devoured it very quickly because I did not want to stop reading.

Evie has many things happen to her. Still reeling from one thing something else quickly comes along. We’ve all had experience of that at one time or another.

Greg is a smashing love interest and the mysterious Yves adds some additional magic to this festive plot. Who is he? Where has he come from?

Christmas Spirit

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Book Review: Christmas With The East End Angels by Rosie Hendry

christmas with east end angelsIt’s great to be welcoming Rosie Hendry to the blog today and the tour for her new novel, Christmas With The East End Angels. 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and the East End Angels are working hard to keep Londoners safe.

Frankie is trying hard to keep everything together. She can count on the support of the East End Angels, even in the face of family trouble.

Winnie’s beloved husband, Mac, is putting himself at risk every day in the bomb disposal unit and she’s finding it hard while he’s away.

Bella is growing in confidence and happiness. Her friendship with Winnie’s brother, James, is getting closer all the time.

Christmas on the Home Front is a hard time with loved ones far away – but the women of the Auxiliary Ambulance service are making do and mending.

This is the latest in the East End Angels series and my introduction to Winnie, Frankie and Bella. This does work as a standalone novel. I didn’t feel like I was playing catch up at all. Rosie’s writing style has an ease to it that made me get fully involved very quickly.

The women are working at Station 75 during WWII. Even though the Blitz has abated, there is still a threat that something will happen especially as news from abroad seems to only get worse.

I could tell straight away that the three main characters had a close friendship – one that would survive many things and the kind that you want during a turbulent time. I loved the three of them together and in this novel, they are joined by Rose, originally from Austria (so you know from the offset that her story is going to be emotional and heartbreaking.)

It was nice reading about an element of war-time London that I was less familiar with. It’s inspirational seeing how these women rallied and did what they could to ‘keep calm and carry on.’

The atmosphere Rosie creates really pulled me in to the world of these women. Despite the fact that it’s a bleak time in Britain’s history, these characters bring hope warmth, love and laughter. For me, this book is very much about them. Each girl is facing their own personal battle. It just happens to be set in WWII which makes their efforts to keep going all the more poignant.

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Book Review: Winter Without You by Beth Good

Winter Without YouIt’s a pleasure to welcome Beth Good to Novel Kicks and the blog blast for her new novel, Winter Without You which has been released today by Quercus. 

After the tragic death of her boyfriend, Hannah Clitheroe is hiding away from the world. But when she discovers she’s inherited a house in Cornwall, she knows it’s time to face reality.

Her estranged grandmother lived in Kernow House for years, but Hannah soon realises someone else thinks it’s rightfully theirs: Raphael Tregar, a difficult man who quickly gets under her skin.

But as winter sets in, there’s one more thing that keeps her up at night, and the rising fear that she may not find her true home in Cornwall after all…

Winter Without You focuses on Hannah. Having recently lost her boyfriend, Hannah has retreated to Cornwall where her Grandmother has left her a house in her will.

It’s not going to be as straightforward for Hannah though especially when she meets her unfriendly neighbour, Raphael.

This is a love story that is further enhanced by the setting and the people.

Hannah has had her share of tragedy. From the beginning, she is very easy to empathise with and like and therefore is a wonderful lead character. I sense that beneath all the sadness and grief, she has a strength, determination and most importantly, a sense of hope about her. I very much wanted her to succeed and felt invested in her story.

Raphael (I love that name) is brooding and mysterious. He is also at times very unpleasant but I certainly wanted to be wrong about him.

The setting in which her recently acquired inheritance sits sounds absolutely beautiful – somewhere I would like to visit.

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Book Review: A Christmas Gift by Sue Moorcroft

a christmas giftA big lovely welcome back to Sue Moorcroft. We are very happy to be the first stop on blog tour for her new novel, A Christmas Gift which has been released today by Avon. 

Georgine loves Christmas. The festive season always brings the little village of Middledip to life. But since her ex-boyfriend walked out, leaving her with crippling debts, Georgine’s struggled to make ends meet.

To keep her mind off her worries, she throws herself into organising the Christmas show at the local school. And when handsome Joe Blackthorn becomes her assistant, Georgine’s grateful for the help. But there’s something about Joe she can’t quite put her finger on. Could there be more to him than meets the eye?

Georgine’s past is going to catch up with her in ways she never expected. But can the help of friends new and old make this a Christmas to remember after all?

Welcome to a Middledip Christmas! Yes, it’s ‘that’ time of year again and we can rejoice with the release of the latest novel from Amazon and Sunday Times best-selling author, Sue Moorcroft. And, even better, for long-standing fans, she’s taken us back to Middledip! Don’t worry if you’re new to reading this author, by the time you’ve finished reading this book, you’ll be dying to check her back catalogue to discover more of this enchanting village she has created.

So, what do we have here? Well, I’ll start by stating that you won’t get too much about the story itself from me, as I don’t believe in giving too much away (you’ll find that on other reviews), I prefer to concentrate on other things.

A Christmas Gift Blog Tour - NovA wee snippet of story – Georgine France isn’t having the best of times since her boyfriend walked out on her, leaving her to deal with his debts, and when her sister comes to stay after splitting with her husband for reasons she doesn’t quite reveal, the prospect of producing the Christmas Play for the Performing Arts College she works for, suddenly turns into more work than she’d like. Throw in a blast from the past in the form of the enigmatic Joe Blackthorn, who has more than a few secrets of his own to sort through and you’ve got the enthralling tale of the year!

Sue is a (and I hope she’ll pardon me the choice of word) mistress of emotion, and she takes us through the wringer here, to be sure (Georgine’s father is not in the best of health either). All the main characters are beautifully rounded and, as is always the case with Sue’s novels, she has some of the best secondary characters that could be written. I always feel like I’ve been introduced to a new family by the time I’ve finished reading a Sue Moorcroft story, and that is just the same here.

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Book Review: The Witches of St. Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones

witches of petersburgImogen Edwards-Jones and the blog tour for her new book, The Witches of St. Petersburg joins Novel Kicks today. 

The Russian Empire is on the verge of collapse. Revolution is in the air. The starving stalk the streets of St Petersburg and yet the Imperial Court still commute between their estates and organise their lavish balls.

Two sisters arrive in the city. Princesses from Montenegro; they are famed for their wild beauty and mystical powers. Initially ridiculed and outcast as the daughters of a provincial ‘Goat King’, they react in the only way they know how. They befriend the isolated Tsarina Alexandra and, using their gifts, they help her in her increasingly desperate quest to give birth to a son and heir. The circle closes. The girls are the gateway. Gurus, clairvoyants, holy fools and charlatans all try their luck. Then in one last, doomed, throw of the dice, the sisters introduce Rasputin into the Russian Court…

Based on the true story of the lives of Princess Militza and Princess Anastasia of Montenegro during the dying days of the Russian Empire, The Witches of St Petersburg is a tale of love, lust, power and betrayal at the heart of the Romanov Court.

Although I don’t know too much about it, this part of Russian history has always held a fascination for me and is why I wanted to read this novel especially as it is based on a true story.

Militza was the most fascinating character for me. Her relationship with her sister was also intriguing. There are very much outsiders and I can relate to that.

The overall setting was written so vividly and with much detail. You can tell how much work and love went into writing this book.

I did find it hard to keep up with who everyone was to begin with. There was a few times where I had to refer to the handy character guide at the beginning but this wasn’t a huge deal; just hard to keep up with all the Russian names.

The plot is engaging and had me wanting to keep reading. It has also made me want to find out more about this period in history.

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