So, I signed up to be a book reviewer through a few different places and this is my first official review. Do you remember back in 2012 when I attempted to read 52 books that year (spoiler alert – I didn’t reach my goal), and I used to post reviews? It was a lot of fun, and I thought this would be a cool way to get back into reading and posting reviews again. Hotel Moscow by Talia Carner was provided to me by TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review. Keep an eye out for more reviews in the future! Now, let’s get to it.
A little slow at first, I found this book difficult to really like though I wasn’t disappointed overall. In general, the book is enjoyable. There were things, historically, it opened my eyes to that I was not even aware of – specifically the state of Russia in the early 1990s after the fall of communism, when Boris Yeltsin assumed power and began trying to introduce capitalism and democracy to the country.
What did I like about this book?
I liked, as I mentioned above, the historical aspects. The setting is October 1993, following the fall of communism, and it focuses on the country trying to navigate this new frontier. That alone is a compelling framework for a story. There are also explorations into antisemitism, through the main character (Brooke Fielding) who is Jewish, which was interesting but was mostly surface (and a little stereotypical). I would have liked to have seen this play a more prominent role in the framework, other than the occasional mention of Brooke hiding (or sometimes not hiding) her Star of David necklace, and her internally rolling her eyes at ignorant, antisemitic comments with the hopes that people’s opinions change later.
Carner focused the broad setting of Russia-post-communism through the experiences of Russian businesswomen being helped by a group of American businesswomen. I really enjoyed this approach, because it did enable Carner to explore just how difficult it was for Russia, but women in particular, to thrive as their world essentially crumbled around them. Brooke, for all intents and purposes, spearheaded the American group and Carner did a good job of establishing Brooke’s authority in business. Overall, I did like Brooke’s character.
When I finished the book, there is a note where we learn that Carner had actually bene in Moscow sixteen months after the fall of Communism, when Yeltsin was squelching a rebellion. She actually joined a group of American businesswomen in a very similar way as Brooke. These are things I wish I had read before delving into the book, because I may have changed my tune about a few things that I ended up not liking as I read through. Speaking of which….
What did I not like about this book?
I felt like while the general idea of the book was great, the conventions Carner used to pull the story together were, at times, a little overdone and stereotypical. The violence, the characters, the smaller plot lines all eventually read as a caricature to me. I finished the book feeling as though I had read a hyper-sensationalized story. And while this is obviously a work of fiction and some embellishment is completely expected, it felt like there was no reigning in of that embellishment and as the book progressed, the exaggerated feeling I had grew.
There were also a few scenes and elements of plot that felt completely out of place. Specifically, a scene involving a bathtub and one of the main Russian female characters (and I should note that what happened in the scene is fine, it was what had happened previously that made me question why the bathtub scene happened when it did – it made no sense, emotionally or psychologically), as well as a scene toward the end of the book where another main Russian female character is in her garden (I felt like this was completely unnecessary, though my guess is Carner was really trying to drive home the idea of how cruel Russia was during this time).
Lastly, while I did like Brooke as a character, her big secret, and the final few pages where that secret is revealed, felt rushed and like a bit of a letdown. Particularly because the book description implies the secret compromises all of her work while she is in Russia, but that is just not the case. She does experience some mild blackmail, but it is almost immediately nipped in the bud (by a man, I should add) and what she is able to accomplish isn’t remotely held back by her secret.
What was my overall impression?
Overall, I would say that if you are looking for a quick read that you won’t take too seriously, filled with a mixture of violence, a little bit of history, stereotypical Russian and American characters, and a few poignant observations then this book will not disappoint you. The story is a little predictable, but there are some very nice points along the way. And, if anything, you’ll close the book thanking your lucky stars you did not live in a post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s.
Any favorite quotes?
“Had the Russians, and then the Ukrainians, followed by the Nazis, not destroyed her mother’s family, her mother would still be here, living like this . . . and Brooke would have been born in the Soviet Union . . . Instead, by several twists of fate and a parade of unbearable miseries, Brooke had become the recipient of the rarest commodity – luck. She had been lucky to be born in the United States of America.” – my guess is, based on the knowledge that Carner was loosely basing the events of the book on her own experience in Russia after the fall, that this is the author’s personal feeling and her motivation for writing the book. I can certainly appreciate that, and this quote really stuck with me.
Do I recommend this book?
Sure. It is not a bad book. Like with any book, there are things that aren’t great, but overall this book is an interesting and somewhat enlightening read. It certainly inspired me to learn more about Russia’s struggle in the 1990s, and it also sheds light on Russia as it is today. My only suggestion is not go into the book expecting a more serious look; it’s meant to be a fast-paced, quick read.