Tag Archives: Russia

Review: The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

The Silent Unseen
Amanda McCrina
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published April 5, 2022

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About The Silent Unseen

A mesmerizing historical novel of suspense and intrigue about a teenage girl who risks everything to save her missing brother.

Poland, July 1944. Sixteen-year-old Maria is making her way home after years of forced labor in Nazi Germany, only to find her village destroyed and her parents killed in a war between the Polish Resistance and Ukrainian nationalists. To Maria’s shock, the local Resistance unit is commanded by her older brother, Tomek―who she thought was dead. He is now a “Silent Unseen,” a special-operations agent with an audacious plan to resist a new and even more dangerous enemy sweeping in from the East. When Tomek disappears, Maria is determined to find him, but the only person who might be able to help is a young Ukrainian prisoner and the last person Maria trusts―even as she feels a growing connection to him that she can’t resist.

My Review

I found this book to be really compelling, especially the relationship between Kostya and Maria. I don’t know anything about the real history of the time period (1944) or how realistic the events in the story are, but I found THE SILENT UNSEEN to be really moving.

There were a couple of weird things about it to me, though. The title and cover copy kind of make it sound like Tomek is a major character, and he really wasn’t? It would make more sense if this is the first book in a series, and the Silent Unseen become a more major part of the story across multiple books, but I don’t see anything stating that this is anything other than a standalone novel.

The story was also a lot darker than I expected. Kostya joined the Ukrainian nationalists unwillingly, and was pretty severely tortured during his service with them. I liked his character a lot, though. His whole goal is to find his way back to his mother and sister and protect them. He seems young and somehow innocent despite everything he’s been through.

On the whole, I liked this book. I feel like it ended in kind of a weird place, like I feel like I’m still waiting for some shoes to drop? So again, it feels like this should be a series, but I don’t see anything about that being the case. If it’s a standalone, I feel weird about the way it ended because so much was still up in the air. In any case, I enjoyed reading THE SILENT UNSEEN, and it made me want to read more of the real history of what happened in Poland following the end of World War II.

If you liked THE GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Monica Hesse, check this one out.

Content Notes The Silent Unseen

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Maria is Polish. Kostya is Ukranian. Kostya has experienced some pretty horrific torture and that effects his behavior in some PTSD-like symptoms.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Vague references to rape. Maria has had experiences in which favors come with a price, and she’s afraid she’ll have those experiences again. Kiss between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Kostya keeps a statue of St. Constantine in his room.

Violent Content
Maria escaped from a labor camp. References to and descriptions of torture and war crimes. Maria shoots and kills several men. Soldiers wound Kostya.

Drug Content
Captors used morphine as part of torturing Kostya.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE SILENT UNSEEN in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Nevertell by Katharine Orton

Katharine Orton
Walker Books US
Published April 14, 2020

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About Nevertell

After escaping a Soviet prison camp, Lina is pursued by a powerful witch and her shadow wolves in a riveting debut that imbues frozen wilderness with fairy-tale magic.

All that twelve-year-old Lina knows of the world is the Stalinist labor camp where she was born, a place of hunger, cruelty, and deprivation. After a daring escape into the frigid Siberian wilds with her best friend, Bogdan, Lina vows to reach Moscow and find her long-lost grandmother, whom she hopes will help her return to the camp to rescue her mother.

But out in the dark forests and haunted tundras, Lina and Bogdan catch the eye of a vengeful witch, a refugee of oppressive new laws about magic, who commands an army of shadow wolves. She seems drawn to some mysterious power within Lina herself.

Pursued by the witch and in fear of recapture, Lina will need every ounce of courage she has — and a whisper of her own magic — if she and Bogdan are to survive the journey and bring hope to a dark place. An enthralling debut that weaves Russian fairy tales through fast-paced adventure.

My Review

I found NEVERTELL to be a really imaginative story and really liked the way it sat between fantasy and history. The history is rather broad– the story takes place during a time when Stalin ruled Russia and imprisoned anyone who spoke against him or talked of magic and fairy tales. The story centers more on magical elements and the difference between using magic to help versus harm.

Lina’s character is determined and kind. She never gives up, and she resolves to save everyone she cares about, even if it looks impossible. I loved that Bogdan makes the journey with her. I thought their friendship made the story much warmer and sweeter.

Natalya’s story broke my heart. I get why that happened, but it just really ached to think of what happened to her and the life she left behind. I loved the alliance between her and Lina, though.

All in all, I thought NEVERTELL was a really good story, though a dark one with some very gray characters. I think perhaps readers who enjoyed NIGHTINGALE’S NEST by Nikki Lofton will enjoy this story.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 12.

All characters are Russian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
See the SPOILER section at the end of the post.

Spiritual Content
Characters possess magic and the ability to curse/transform others.

Violent Content
References to cruel treatment of prisoners in the camp. Situations of peril. Lina and Bogdan face men who wish to murder them as well as threats from invisible wolf-like creatures and a powerful witch.

Drug Content

Note: I received a free copy of NEVERTELL in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.


Late in the story, Lina confronts her mother about her father, the commandant at the prison camp. She asks her mother if she loved him, and her mother answers that she did.

It’s hard to know if she’s giving a child’s answer because it’s Lina who’s asking, but the relationship (a prisoner/prison guard romance) is problematic because of consent issues.

Review: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes
Thomas Nelson
Available May 7, 2019

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The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them… and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her…

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad… and he’s on the other.

My Review

Okay, so as soon as you saw the name Anastasia Romanov, you probably started thinking of animated movie where Meg Ryan voices Anastasia. And any second you’re going to wind up with that catchy lullaby from the movie stuck in your head. Or maybe I’m just showing my age.

This book has very little in common with that children’s movie. Actually, according to the author’s note, the book has a lot more in common with the real history of the Romanov family– with the exception of the magical elements of the story, and obviously, the fact that not all of the Romanov family members die at the hands of their captors.

I liked ROMANOV. Nastya was mischievous and fun and tried very hard to keep her family’s spirits up. I loved her dad’s humble, gentle character and his commitment to showing love for their captors as a part of his personal faith. Once I realized ROMANOV told a more historically accurate version of events, I found myself getting lost in the more unbelievable or amazing parts. Nastya’s sister’s romance with one of the guards, for instance.

Because of the consent issues, I felt uncomfortable with Nastya’s sister’s relationship with one of the guards. It is something that apparently happened in real life. Most of their relationship remains emotional rather than physical. Nastya herself has feelings for one of the guards but keeps telling herself to forget about that.

Overall I liked a lot of things about the book and really enjoyed learning some more about the Romanov family. If you enjoy re-imagined history, like THE RING AND THE CROWN by Melissa de la Cruz, then you’ll probably like ROMANOV.

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

All characters are Russian, some based on true historical figures and others made up. Nastya’s brother has hemophilia.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
No profanity.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. In one instance, the kiss happens between a guard and prisoner.

Spiritual Content
Lots of references to Iisus, or Jesus. Nastya and her father in particular speak of their faith and how important it is, even as prisoners, to show love to their captors and try to understand their perspective. She prays at some critical moments, but it’s clear she also has a great deal of faith in Rasputin and other spell masters to provide for her family’s needs.

Violent Content
Instances of open cruelty toward Nastya and her family by soldiers. They hear gunshots and learn they mean executions (mostly of people they don’t know, but not always). Nastya witnesses the execution of people does know and love.

Drug Content
The leader of the Romanovs’ captors is very often drunk. Some references to her mother’s and brother’s need for morphine for headaches and severe pain.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links which cost you nothing but help support this blog when used to buy books.

Review: Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Kiem

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy (The Bolshoi Saga #1)
Elizabeth Kiem
Soho Teen
Published on August 13, 2013

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About Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy
Marya is a ballet dancer born of privilege; her mother, Sveta, is the most popular ballet dancer in the Soviet Union and its glamorous face to the West.

When Sveta disappears, Marya and her father suspect their own lives are in danger and arrange a harrowing defection. Marya is certain that her father is doomed to be murdered at their new home in Brighton Beach, where his closest friends are unapologetic criminals . . . she’s “seen” him die.

Soon she’s drawn into web of intrigue that ultimately reveals the truth about her gift of foresight, her mother’s disappearance, and a boy she cannot bring herself to trust.

My Review
Things that drew me to this book: the 80s setting, the ballet elements, the Russian characters, and the intrigue/mystery about her mom. Reading about the 80s was super fun. I loved the conversations Marya has with Ben about music and some of the descriptions of fashion. That part of the story was a lot of fun to read. As a former ballet dancer myself, I love reading books that feature ballerina characters. It definitely makes me miss dancing but also gives me a chance to celebrate that part of my life again.

Truthfully, I was a little nervous once I read the author’s note about characters being referred to by multiple names as they would be in Russian culture because I have a harder time keeping track of a lot of names in a novel anyway. But actually, I had no trouble. There are only a few characters with multiple names, and most often it’s Marya who’s referred to by different names, and even those were easy to keep track of.

Solving the mystery of her mother’s disappearance drives Marya’s story forward. Just like Marya, her mother has a supernatural gift that gets her into trouble. In Sveta’s case, it’s the ability to see past events which she has no personal knowledge of. Things like a secret government experiment. While I really enjoyed the mysterious, suspenseful feel of the story, I felt like the supernatural gifts didn’t really fit. It seemed to me like they were really shortcuts so things could happen in the plot without needing realistic explanation. Marya could discover something via her gift rather than uncovering clues leading her to the conclusion.

The plot of the story focused more on the relationships between characters than on the mystery/suspense elements. I didn’t mind this as a reader, but it wasn’t what I was expecting based on the title of the book, which sounded like a reference to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. All in all, I enjoyed reading it. Not sure the series is really for me, though. 80s fans or readers interested in Russian culture will definitely want to get a copy of this one, though.

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Cultural Elements
Major characters are Russian and several are referred to by more than one name (the author explains this is the way they’d be used in Russian culture.). I thought that would be really confusing, but actually I had no problem keeping the characters straight. The story contains some phrases and words in Russian, too.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Rumors about Sveta and the ballet director, who’s said to be in love with her.

Spiritual Content
Marya and her mother have unusual gifts. Marya’s mother can see the past and has visions of things she has no real way to know. Marya has visions that foretell the future.

Violent Content
Marya worries that her mother may be tortured or killed. She has a vision of a person with a gun preparing to shoot her friends. She sees some members of the Russian mafia and hears some rumors about how they operate. She stumbles into a crime scene in which a man has been shot.

Drug Content
Some scenes show characters drinking alcohol or getting drunk. (Mostly these are adults.) At one point, Marya pours out a bottle of vodka because she doesn’t want her dad and uncle to drink it.