Invitation to a Bonfire

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

Oh how I tried to enjoy this book & oh how I was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into it & found myself falling asleep during each attempt.
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Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

I like the time setting of this book and the title. The story was very interesting. It was a little too bogged down at times, but overall I think it's a good story.
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She is a writer who tells a very good story because of it's vividness and the way she engrosses you in the story. If you haven't discovered this author yet definitely pick up this book so you won't miss this gem. It's lyrical and intense and definitely worth curling up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon sitting in your favorite chair with your preferred drink by your side. Happy reading!
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Short Summary: The tepid tale of a love triangle gone wrong (although do any of them ever go right?) that was inspired by Vladimir and Vera Nabokov's marriage.

Thoughts: The summary makes it easy to go into this novel with certain expectations (seductive story, spellbinding psychological thriller) but this story is, possibly because it was written as a series of letters, comes off as extremely apathetic and lethargic.

Verdict: Unfortunately, this tale failed to seduce or spellbind me and considering this was meant to be based off the notorious Nabokov's, I expected that infamous passion to bleed through the page more.

I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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Set in post-revolutionary Russia, Paris and the US, this unique compilation of historic experiences intertwine into life, loneliness and love that will capture you and hold you tight. Celt’s intelligent and melodic writing style is refreshing and lyrical in its elegant delivery - this is a love story like no other. Who’s the predator, who’s the prey?  You’ll be kept guessing as weaknesses are exposed, strengths confounded and cleverness prevails!
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This was total fun. 1930s, boarding school, mean girls, Russian émigrés (including Vladimir and Vera Nabokov stand-ins), literature (including a mysterious missing manuscript), the politics of entitlement vs. deprivation, murder plots, and some really enjoyable writing—super smart but not heavy. Recommended to anyone who likes any of the above. Thanks to #NetGalley for the e-galley.

And just for the hell of it, I pulled Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading off my shelf, because a home library is the best thing ever when it actually replicates the kind of free association you'd use a real library for.

[Goodreads/LibraryThing review]
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DNF. I tried to push through to get to the passionate love triangle, which sounded very interesting to me, but I got so bored during the childhood/school parts that I lost interest.
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This book was very slow reading.  It took forever to really get in the rhythm of the story and I found the writing somewhat confusing.  It was hard to tell who was talking when the viewpoints often changed.  I didn't especially care about any of the characters or what happened to them.  Still, it presented some interesting history so I give it 3 stars for that.
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I had a hard time getting into this book. I initially started it, but stopped and read another book instead. Then I revisited it and found the first section a little slow and hard to get through. (I have no idea if this is merely due to the story being slow or me just not being in the right head space for it. I imagine it was a little of both.) 

I stuck with it though, and was rewarded with an interesting and beautifully written story. However, I'm afraid I didn't really fully notice or appreciate that fact until I was nearly to the end. Because of that, maybe this book is more like a 3.5 for me, personally.

Ultimately the story is a slow burn (you likely won't understand where the title comes from until the final pages.) An impressionable, rather naive young woman named Zoya has an affair with a married man named Leo. As most affairs go, it's a pretty dysfunctional relationship in which man takes advantage of the young woman's naïveté. To further complicate matters, Leo is married to a pretty complex, formidable woman named Vera who has a history with Zoya and isn't about to simply walk away from the relationship. (I love this line from Vera, "Women,' she said with a little laugh. 'The quieter we are, the less we're seen? The more we get done.'")

Ultimately this book is a character study of one woman (Zoya), with interesting glimpses at another (Vera), and nearly no peeks inside the head of Leo--the man whom both women love. This lack of detail for his character makes Leo the least interesting one in the book (he almost comes off at times as cartoonish). But the women are complex characters with rich back stories. At times it's difficult to know which one of them to root for. Ultimately you, the reader, are likely to just hope Zoya finds some simple happiness in her lonely life. Thankfully the book creates some great drama around the complexity of that task. Thankfully the book creates some great drama around the complexity of that task.

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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*4.5 stars rounded up.

"'It's like I sensed you,' he whispered. "Not just here, but everywhere. Like everyone I've ever loved was leading up to this, to you, to us.'"

How could a virtually friendless young woman, alone in the world, not fall for an older man, a famous Russian novelist whose books she adored, when he breathed those enchanting words in her ear? 

Zoya Andropova was one of several orphaned Soviet children secreted on a passenger ship and brought to America in 1925. There she is offered a scholarship to attend an elite all-girls secondary school in Maple Hill, New Jersey. After graduation, she remains at the school to plan and run their elaborate greenhouse. It is there that she meets the famous Russian novelist, Leo Orlov, and his wife and editor, Vera, when he comes to teach at the school. A passionate love affair ensues. It's the old tale of: "I love my wife...but oh you kid!" 

The story is told through a collection of papers bequeathed to the school after Vera Orlov's death that contain Zoya's diary, Leo Orlov's letters, and police interviews and reports. It's not surprising that a romantic triangle leads to death but there is an intriguing mystery here that builds nicely to a shocking conclusion. 

I was pleasantly surprised that this was quite the page-turner, a sleeper that's not getting enough attention yet, in my opinion. It's supposedly loosely based on Vladimir Nabokov who did indeed have a wife named Vera who was his editor, but there are no notes from the author in this arc edition about how she came to write this novel and if indeed good-old Vlad was her inspiration. 

There is some interesting Russian history--what happened to Zoya's family during the Russian revolution and how she became an orphan. All her life, even in America, she comes up against the unfairness of class, those with a great deal money versus those without. Are her choices the right ones? 

Many thanks to NetGalley, the author and publisher for the opportunity to read an arc of this novel. I will look forward to reading more of Ms Celt's work.
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As appears on

Invitation to a Bonfire is one of those books where the summary is entirely misleading.  Reading it, I thought I was in for a immigrant’s story, or a boarding school book, or even a crazy sexy romance/survival book.  Nope.  Sure, the book has elements of all of the above, but it’s mediocre compared to the way it’s described.  The first half is unnecessarily slow, and it was hard for me to distinguish between the voices.  Invitation to a Bonfire is told in first person from Zoya and Lev’s points-of-view, but they are both written with the same language and style so it was difficult at first to remember who was narrating.  It eventually became easier to decipher.  Zoya’s POV is told through her diary entries, and Lev’s is told through letters he wrote to his wife, Vera.  Vera herself never narrates, though various newspaper clippings and testimonies reflect on her character.  It was interesting for the book to be told in a diary-like format, because that’s not common in “adult” fiction, so I appreciated that, but it also made for a lot of “telling” not “showing,” which I think took away from the story.

I don’t mean to rant, but bearing this in mind, I think Adrienne Celt’s Invitation to a Bonfire is truly one of those love-it-or-hate-it books.  I loved the writing style, it was lyrical and endearing, but I didn’t care too much for the story itself or its execution.  When I finished it, I couldn’t help but feel it was missing something.  The ending was underwhelming and left me feeling “meh.”  I can say that this book just wasn’t for me, but if you like love triangles or historical thrillers, give Invitation to a Bonfire a try.
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4 seductive stars To Invitation to a Bonfire!

This book was highly recommended by my friend, Elyse! Thanks for another intriguing read! 

Zoya Andropova is a refugee of the Soviet Union who has enrolled in an all-girls boarding school in New Jersey. It’s the 1920s, and she has lost everything, including her family. Zoya’s journey is relatable in that she wants nothing more than to fit in like any teenager, but being a Soviet refugee during this time of extreme paranoia to outsiders proves to be a heartbreaking burden she cannot lift. 

Zoya takes an interest in a visiting writer and fellow Russian emigre, Lev Orlov. Actually, Zoya has long been obsessed with the books by this famous author, and she seeks him out as a savior of sorts. 

Lev is already married to Vera, and a love triangle is set-up, complicated by the fact that Lev is both devoted to his art and to Vera. She is his anchor, a cold and calculating anchor at that, and runs every aspect of their lives. What happens to Zoya, Leo, and Vera is a tangled mystery. 

Adrienne Celt’s writing is artistic and exciting. This is a mysterious thriller that has a slow build. I found the structure interesting; comprised of letters, diary entries, and transcripts. 

Just who is the master of Zoya, Lev, and Vera’s fates? 

Thank you to Adrienne Celt, Bloomsbury USA, and Netgalley for the ARC. Invitation to a Bonfire will be available on June 5, 2018.
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It's a fine book. Interesting if you love character driven suspense.  I feel like it would have been more compellling if the names hadn't been changed. Overall, an interesting book.
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It took me a while to get into Invitation to a Bonfire. I will say that I am thankful for giving it some time because eventually it became rather suspenseful. I know very little about Russia, especially 1920's Russia so it was interesting for me to read about.
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I was very disappointed with this book. In fact I could barely get in to it all and ended up putting it down. The writing style was not something I liked, and honestly I found the writing to be muddy. I did not finish.
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Yowsa.  Based on the trouble (to say the least) Nabakov marriage and written loosely in his style, this packs a lot into a fairly slim volume.  Arguably it's historical fiction- and in a very narrow niche- but it's also a psychological study of three people who really should have been separated from one another for their own mental health.  Zoya is bitterly lonely and adrift in the US-  perfect prey for Leo and a toy to be batted about for Vera.  A love triangle but only one person loves.  This is a quieter novel than many of this ilk and it's nicely written.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for the free review copy of this novel. All opinions are my own. 

I really enjoyed this book because of how it was different. I found this book to be a very tone driven novel. The narrator 'breaks the fourth wall,' and I think that that adds so much to this story. This story is heavily influenced by the tone of the narrator, which slowly changes over the course of the novel, in some ways. I enjoyed getting to see growth in this character from her own perspective. 

There were times that I thought the story lagged a little, but it wasn't detrimental. This isn't only a story pushed by tone, though. There are places where the plot and characters help move it forward. 

The author did a fantastic job with the ending of this novel. I really liked how I didn't see it ending quite like that, and she left enough room for the reader to interpret what happens next, which is a great way to end a story.
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I love historical fiction and this novel did not disappoint. The mystery part of it kept me guessing until the end.  Celt’s writing captivated me  and I can’t wait to read more of her work.
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The revolution and following turmoil made an orphan of Zoya Andropova. Therefore, she like so many other kids comes to the USA as an orphan and is welcomed in a New Jersey boarding school. She never belongs even though she quickly acquires the language and gets good marks. After her schooling, she can stay on the premises and work in the newly built greenhouse where she fully immerses in her work with the plants. Neither does she have friends, nor a lover. It is just her work and the love for literature that keep her going. There is one author she has worshipped for years, Leo Orlov, another Russian émigré whose works she devours. When Leo comes to teach at the boarding school, Zoya seems close to happiness, but even though Leo returns her love, there is one person in the way of their luck: Vera, his wife.

Adrienne Celt’s second novel “Invitation to a Bonfire” is set in a complicated time and therefore offers several layers of narration. The book can be read against the background of Russian-American confrontation and distrust. It is also a coming-of-age novel of a girl who struggles in her new surroundings. The story provides a good example of group dynamics, of exclusion and bullying, of rich vs. poor. It clearly also broaches the issue of being forced to leave your country, forced to leave behind everything from your family, to your belongings and even your language. And, after all, it is a story about love and being loved and about what people are willing to do for the one they have fallen for.

With such an abundance of topics, it is hard to find a beginning. Let’s start with the protagonist. It really liked Zoya, she is a decent and modest character, she humbly accepts her status in the new school and avoids attracting attention. Even though the other girls play tricks on her, she remains loyal and keeps quiet. She can endure a lot and does not expect life to be fair. After what happened to her family, she knows that justice is not something you can rely on in this world. This is a truth she has accepted and thus, she can follow her ideals. 

When she falls under the spell of Leo, you want to shout at her to run, far far away from this man and his wife. You can see that nothing good can come from this relationship – but: what else could she do than immediately fall in love? He is the first to see her, to show her affection and to love her. Her free will is gone and the is easy to manipulate. 

The story is not fast paced, actually the love story comes at quite a late point in the novel considering its relevance. What made the narration really lively was the fact that Leo’s letters to his wife and other documents were integrated which allowed you a glimpse at a later point and thus added to the underlying suspense. The author has cleverly constructed the novel and her writing is adorably poetic and multi-layered, is starts with the first sentences which immediately drag you into the novel and don’t let you out before the finishing dot:

“Let me begin by saying I did not think it would end this way. No—let me begin by saying I will burn this diary shortly.”
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Thanks Bloomsbury USA and netgalley for this ARC.

This book will keep you reading all night long. You wont know which way is up and down at the end but you'll be satisfied.
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