Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: Midnight at St. Petersburg by Vanora Bennett

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pub. Date: January 19, 2016
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Print ARC
Rating: 1 Star

St. Petersburg, 1911: Inna Feldman has fled the pogroms of the south to take refuge with distant relatives in Russia's capital city. Welcomed by the flamboyant Leman family, she is apprenticed into their violin-making workshop. She feels instantly at home in their bohemian circle, but revolution is in the air, and as society begins to fracture, she is forced to choose between her heart and her head. She loves her brooding cousin, Yasha, but he is wild, destructive and devoted to revolution; Horace Wallick, an Englishman who makes precious Faberge creations, is older and promises security and respectability. And, like many others, she is drawn to the mysterious, charismatic figure beginning to make a name for himself in the city: Rasputin.

As the rebellion descends into anarchy and bloodshed, a commission to repair a priceless Stradivarius violin offers Inna a means of escape. But which man will she choose to take with her? And is it already too late? A magical and passionate story steeped in history and intrigue, Midnight in St. Petersburg is an extraordinary novel of music, politics, and the toll that revolution exacts on the human heart.

Do you ever read a book and at the end of it, all you can find yourself saying is wow? Well, this story has the opposite effect. Instead, I found myself saying, "thank goodness it's over!" because this was just way too long and way too boring. I seriously thought I would love this because of the time period: pre-revolutionary Russia. I don't read many books involving Russia, so I jumped at the chance to read Midnight in St. Petersburg.

The story started off very strong with our female lead, Inna, a Jewish girl on the run to find refuge with a distant relative. It's through this relative, Yasha, that she meets and ends up staying with, the Lemans. A very interesting family that owns a workshop making violins and the place that Inna becomes an apprentice at. And that's where it stops for me. As I stated before, it was long and boring. I think the book could have been cut down a lot; maybe then, I wouldn't have felt as bored.

Aside from that, I don't quite think this is historical fiction, it's more of a romance novel. There's nothing wrong with that but I know some people in the historical fiction genre expect it to stay that way. I was okay with the romance, it may have been the only upside for me. I really would wish to read a book from this timeline and one a little more interesting.  

*Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Buy the Book!

About the Author:
I became a journalist almost by accident. Having learned Russian and been hired after university by Reuters (to my own surprise and the slight dismay of traditionally-minded editors who weren’t sure a Guardian-reading blonde female would be tough enough for the job), I was then catapulted into the adrenaline-charged realm of conflict reporting. While on a trainee assignment in Paris, I fell in with the Cambodian émigré community and ended up reporting in Cambodia myself, a decade after the Khmer Rouge regime ended, as well as covering Cambodian peace talks in places as far apart as Indonesia and Paris. That led to a conflict reporting job in Africa, commuting between Angola and Mozambique and writing about death, destruction, diamonds and disease, and later to a posting in a country that stopped being the Soviet Union three months after I arrived. I spent much of the early 1990s in smoky taxis in the Caucasus mountains, covering a series of small post-Soviet conflicts that built up to the war in Chechnya.

My fascination with the cultural and religious differences between Russians and the many peoples once ruled by Moscow grew into a book on the Chechen war (Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya). A second, more light-hearted book followed, about post-Soviet Russia’s illegal caviar trade, once I’d got homesick for London and moved back to writer leaders on foreign affairs for The Times. This book was The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar.

I now lead a more sedate life in North London with my husband and two small sons, enjoying the reading, research, writing and metropolitan leisure activities that I grew up expecting adult life to involve. I’ve found that writing books is much of a surprise, a pleasure and an adventure of the mind as it was to become a foreign correspondent.

As a journalist I’ve written for, among others, The Times and its website, TimesOnline, the Los Angeles Times, Prospect, The Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian Saturday magazine, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, Eve magazine, The Observer Food Monthlyand The Erotic Review.


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