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The Porcelain Doll by Kristen Loesch

About the book

In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land … … Rosie lived peacefully in Moscow and her mother told her fairy tales. One summer night, all that came abruptly to an end when her father and sister were gunned down. Now, Rosie’s only inheritance from her reclusive mother is a notebook full of eerie, handwritten tales, but there is another story lurking between the lines. Currently studying at Oxford University, Rosie has a fiance who knows nothing of her former life. Desperate for answers to the questions that have tormented her, Rosie returns to her homeland and uncovers a devastating family history which spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges and beyond. At the heart of those answers stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions reverberate across the century …

My review

How does one strike a balance between past and present? Is it worth the risk to delve into pain passed down from one family member to another, to uncover stories previously concealed? It’s often a Pandora’s Box that will force whoever confronts them to face a well of consequences far deeper than expected. In this case, it’s a journey you’ll want to be on.

Loesch tells this intergenerational story with skill and finesse. The book’s two storylines hit two significant points in Russian history: the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a testament to Loesch’s knowledge and dexterous storytelling that this doesn’t overwhelm the reader. I sometimes find it difficult to switch between two different timelines and storylines while reading because I feel jerked away from one and plunged into the other before I’m ready. In this book, I was so equally gripped by each strand of the story that I wanted to keep reading no matter what. They’re woven together with purpose, richly told, and yet both storylines are immersive in their own right. 

There are many special things about this book, but I especially loved the countless lines that struck me as I was reading, that I wanted to underline and come back to because they stayed with me. Loesch’s layered sentences compelled me to reread the same line over and over, ready to find something different each time.  

When I first saw The Porcelain Doll’s title, it reminded me of one of my favourite fairytales as a child: Vasilisa the Beautiful, the story of a girl and her doll (and the infamous Baba Yaga). The author names this very story in her ending note, and mentions her own lifelong interest in fairytales and myths. It was a delight to step into The Porcelain Doll’s pages, which evoke modern fairytale and Russian literature fused. 

In honour of The Porcelain Doll’s publication day – and of a story about mothers, daughters, and granddaughters – I’ve included in the photo above a doll given to me by my nonna. She’s been perched in various spots in my bedroom for so many years, so it was great fun to break her out and give her a little photoshoot. The Porcelain Doll has gifted me a striking reminder of family history carried through generations, and the weight it can carry. 

I actually discovered, thanks to this book, that under my doll’s hair there is a hole, and her head is hollow. To find out what that relates to … the book is just a click away. 

Categories
Blog Tours Book Reviews

Empress & Aniya by Candice Carty-Williams

My first blog tour of 2022, and first actual post of 2022 (v unimpressive considering it’s February). I had to tap out for a while because of general social media fatigue and because although on the one hand you can never get enough books, on the other hand when your job is books, your main hobby is books, and almost every segment of your social media is books … after a certain point it feels like you’re about to turn into one. 

However, I adore Candice Carty-Williams’ work and so the opportunity to read and review her first YA novel was a very good reason to jump back into book insta/twitter/etc. The book is ‘South London’s answer to Freaky Friday’, and it revolves around the friendship of two 15-year-old girls, Empress & Aniya, who accidentally cast a spell on their 16th birthday and end up switching bodies. 

To start with, how gorgeous is the cover?! This is definitely a book you’ll want to display on your bookcase – it’s so pretty and compact and well-made, I was obsessed immediately. 

Thematically, the book is a little darker than the description makes out – it touches on issues around class, abuse, neglect, difficult family relationships. But the themes are explored with a light touch, and I would actually say that the book would perhaps be more suited to readers around 11-13 rather than 13+. The book’s main focus is Empress and Aniya’s friendship, and its vibe is wholesome and heartwarming rather than Jacqueline Wilson levels of dark. 

My only issue with it is that it felt a too short. Many of the issues were resolved a little too quickly and I would have enjoyed a slightly slower pace, with time to delve further into the very relevant issues and explore each scene and character in more depth. 

Overall, it’s a very touching novel with lots of heart. I loved the friendship between Empress and Aniya, and the themes are interesting and pertinent. A lovely book that will lift you right out of a winter slump.