Open Fire

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Mar 2020

Member Reviews

This book is unexpected in the best possible way. Women have been actively involved in wartime efforts throughout history, and not just on the home front. It's great to see some representation of that in the literary world. 
I read this book in under a day, unable to keep from turning pages. 
Katya is the daughter of an officer in the Russian army, desperate to do something at home, but not gifted as a nurse, so she takes a job in a munitions factory filling grenades. And as Russia tears itself apart in revolution and the country is in danger of losing the Great War, Katya makes the choice to join a battalion of women who will be sent to the trenches to fight, since the men will no longer do so without discussing battle plans in committees. Just like her father and brother, Katya faces the horrors of war for the country she loves, and she learns about herself and her family in the process. 
Thank you to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group for a free galley copy in exchange for an honest review. Open Fire will be released March 3rd, 2020!
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A great look into a piece of history so often overlooked because it involved women. I believe I'd learned about this before (albeit still much later in life than I'd have liked) but it was refreshing to read a novel set during this time when women were allowed to join the front and prove that they could be just as good, or even better than any man. A story simply told from hesitance to certainty in the span of just a short time. I really enjoyed Katya's story and was left feeling for her plights and proud of her accomplishments.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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“There are worthy wars fought badly and unworthy ones fought well, and all of them are hell. They may save nations or break them, but they always take more than they give back.” 
Seventeen-year-old Katya lives in the war-ravaged Petrograd of 1917. She works in a munitions factory to do her part in the war and help her fellow Russians. Desertion runs rampant through the army; her own brother is one such deserter. Katya finds her chance to have a bigger impact on the war efforts when the government starts recruiting for all-female battalion. She joins the army and finds herself on the front lines of the war that has spurred desertion and revolution in her beloved country.
	I was very intrigued when I read the synopsis of this book. I have heard many stories and voices from WWI, but very few have been from Russia. Even fewer have come from women. Women’s history tends to be erased or downplayed, especially in times of war. We hear of women planting victory gardens and working in factories. Very rarely do we hear of the stories of the brave women in the action, not taking a supporting role.  I loved this story. It had me interested from the first chapter. I think it was very well paced and had just enough details to convey the truth of the situation while being appropriate for middle school and high school age children. I would absolutely recommend this book for someone looking for YA historical fiction.
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Open Fire by Amber Lough is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late December.

The lead character Katya works in a Russian WWI munitions plant and her brother deserts the army, so she enlists in the women's army and joins rifle artillery combat in Belarus. She and her social/work set of friends are wound up by anti-czarist revolt, while the backdrop of the story made up of the Russian royal family's dialogue while in exile. People using their full formal names very often makes it quite easy to read this book with an accent, even as it's seeping in doomy, mild morbidity.
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This novel, about one of the little known all-female Russian army battalions in WWI has a great premise and includes plenty of historical facts but it comes up short of being a compelling story.  This is a particular shame for a YA book that ought to entertain and inform a young reader.  If you don’t mind the sub-titles, the 2015 Russian movie, THE BATTALION, is a better introduction to the war and rise of Bolshevism..
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Finished this in one sitting! Well written, with an original setting, this novel kept me turning the pages well into the night. Recommended for all fans of historical fiction, especially those who eagerly await Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein's next books! A welcome addition to the young adult historical fiction canon.
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I don’t know much about early female military groups, or even much about the Russian front in basically any wars because of how the US school system always frames history, so I jumped at the chance to read a YA book starring the first female Russian battalion. I loved getting to learn about Katya and her complex relationships, her family history gets teased out chapter by chapter as we learn about her mother, father, brother, and best friend Masha. Her disagreements and ultimate understanding with her brother was beautiful as they both navigate the consequences of war and current political upheaval. Weaving through Katya’s story is a beautiful bedtime story about Saint Olga, told to Katya by her father years before all of the events that take place. Characterizing her father and visualizing her attachment to this saint in particular was a great way to add layers and emotions to both Katya and her absentee father who is, during the events of the book, stationed indefinitely on Russia’s warfront. The writing was captivating and seemingly well researched. I certainly learned a lot, and was sitting on the edge of my seat when the battalion ends up on the front lines!

Some other reviews have mentioned that the book falls a bit flat, which I can understand from the perspective of a ‘climax’ but a believe that is essential, if not inherent, to a World War I novel. Yes, Katya trained extensively and didn’t accomplish much while on the battlefield; but that is what trench warfare was. It was a grueling, thankless, task of taking the opponent’s trenches that inevitably was lost again. It was an endless stalemate, and it’s hard to make trench warfare interesting. That all being said, I didn’t find this ending to necessarily be about the setting, and more about how Katya started off the book trying to figure out who she was and if she would be brave or a coward when facing down death, and she found her answer. I found the climax to be this sudden understanding of the self, and it was quite beautiful.

I couldn’t rate this a full 4 or 5 stars because it felt like too much was being squished into the story by adding Sergei as a character. I understand that historically a lot was going on with the start of the Bolshevik revolution during this time period, but I think this lost a bit of my focus. I’m  not sure if I would have enjoyed it more if the Bolsheviks had been cut, or if their presence had been more fully developed.
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I don't often read historical fiction. I'm more of a high fantasy or contemporary reader. But I really loved this book. Katya was a great main character. I have to admit that my knowledge of Russia in this time period was limited. So it was a nice refresher of what I'd learned in high school (and a nice expansion on that knowledge as well, why didn't they tell us there was a female death squad?!). I kind of wish the story had been longer, it was just such a quick read. And I had hoped for an epilogue because I wanted to know what became of Katya later in her life.
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The premise of the book is undeniably intriguing: The year is 1907 and Katya, a young woman of seventeen, is living in Petrograd, Russia and doing her part for the war by working in a munitions factory. She comes from a family that has been loyal to the Tsar (her father is a soldier in the Imperial army) and she seemingly has had no cause to question the life she has been born into - until war upends everything and she suddenly finds herself a training as part of an all-female army battalion an about ready to experience the war closer than she ever could have dreamed. 

This sounds like an amazing set up for a story and, based on the formation of actual female combat units in the wake of the February Revolution, a chance to unveil a mostly hidden part of the women's history in Russia. Yet, somehow, it all fell disappointingly short for me. Lough's writing is competent and trained, clearly, but lacks a kind of emotional connection to the subject that is desperately needed in this story. From the start, we get a lot of telling but little showing of what is going on in with Katya. For example, she walks out of work and joins a march/protest and there is no understanding of why she joined or any conflict she may feel about what is happening around her, despite the fact that she is acting in a way that may raise the concern of her family. This kind of remote narrative continues throughout the book, even at its most climactic, ultimately leading to a difficulty in feeling anything for the character and the dangers she encounters. The author gives a great historical account but falls short of providing an engaging story at the heart of it. 

Thank you to Netgalley for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review
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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

I love a good historical fiction book but this just didn't meet up to my expectations or standards. I was initially intrigued by this book because it delves into the Russian Revolution which is a nice break from all those WWI and WWII historical fictions I read so often. However after a few chapters of this book, it became more of a chore than anything to finish this book. The character development was not good, and I just couldn't personally connect with the characters. And that's a big thing! Personal connection is key to a good book and a bestselling book at that. The overall story was really predictable and I personally wouldn't recommend this book however someone else might love it. It's all about personal preference, right?
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I chose to read this book because after reading the description and it being over a Russian girl during the first World War, I was intrigued. It sounded really cool to read a book written from that perspective and got me really excited!
After reading a few chapters, I sadly knew that the book wasn't going to exceed my hopes. The writing was bad, there was minimal world building, the characters were very bland and the book was very predictable. I mean very. In the end the plot wasn't really gripping or very interesting, it was more of a chore to read this book than that it was fun. I just wasn't very fond of the main character and her thoughts, she wasn't really special and annoyed me throughout most of the book sadly.

I would not recommend this book, as it was boring and not really interesting. The idea behind it is good, but in my opinion the execution of it was not very convincing.
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I have had the privilege of reading this book in successive drafts, and it has only gotten better.

Based on the story of the Women’s Battalion of Death in WWI Russia, it follows Katya, an officer’s daughter who volunteers for the regiment. Amber Lough, the author, is a veteran of the Iraq War and writes clear, compelling battle sequences as well as fleshing out the characters so that their travails break your heart. The friendship between Katya and her buddy Masha, as well as Katya’s relationship with her deserter brother Maxim, stands out as extremely well done, and the historical figure of the regiment’s leader and founder, Maria Bochkareva, becomes a compelling character as well. I had a few quibbles with some of the political setting in terms of the Russian Revolution (as usual, not enough screen-time for non-Bolshevik socialists), but the character of Sergei, a Bolshevik activist who wants Katya to desert for both personal and political reasons, was also very well done.

The ending and the last line broke my heart, as they should have.

I had issues with the book recommendations at the end–Richard Pipes wrote the single worst book on the revolution that I have had the misfortune of reading, and it is recommended here–but Lough’s research is strong. Katya’s political confusion is realistic for the era and her age, although I wasn’t quite sold on some of her contradictory actions.

I want a sequel very badly but also can’t bear the thought of these characters living through the brutal Russian Civil War, so I would say Lough did a great job in both telling a compelling story and attaching me to the characters.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC. "Open Fire" will be released on March 3rd, 2020. 

I really must be on a war novel kick right now: the last three books I read (this, "My Long List of Impossible Things," and "The Fountains of Silence" - review of that forthcoming) were all either about a war, or dealt with the aftermath of one. Sadly, "Open Fire" was probably my least favorite of that trilogy - but it still had a lot to offer. 

Summary 

In 1917, Russia is losing the war with Germany, soldiers are deserting in droves, and food shortages on the home front are pushing people to the brink of revolution. Seventeen-year-old Katya is politically conflicted, but she wants Russia to win the war. Working at a munitions factory seems like the most she can do to serve her country—until the government begins recruiting an all-female army battalion. Inspired, Katya enlists. Training with other brave women, she finds camaraderie and a deep sense of purpose. But when the women's battalion heads to the front, Katya has to confront the horrifying realities of war. Faced with heartbreak and disillusionment, she must reevaluate her commitment and decide where she stands.
Review

I have a thing for Russian history that I honestly cannot explain. Since Russian Revolution YA novels are rare birds indeed, I jumped at the chance to read this - and I was surprised to find, after not reading the description very carefully (I saw the word "Russia" and hit download on the spot), that it covered an aspect of the Revolution that I had no knowledge of. It was fascinating to read about the incredible grit that the women of the battalion around which the story centered displayed at a time when they were not given many chances to. I loved that it shone a light on a forgotten part of Russia's recent past, and it was a very educational portrait of the time. But...

I kinda didn't feel anything. 

Though I learned a lot, I never really felt much of an emotional connection to Katya or her comrades-in-arms. There was a sort of flatness to the story and characters that made it hard to feel for them, and though I wish I could say I had, I never really felt drawn into their world. That made it a little hard to "get into," and though I blew through it in a few hours, it wasn't really out of desire to know what happens next to beloved characters. I truly wish I could say otherwise because it's such an interesting story and sheds light on a historical episode that so few people know about, but ultimately it felt a little bit flat to me. The amount of research that clearly went into this was incredible and the time period and setting were incredibly well-drawn, but unfortunately, my final verdict still stands: educational, but bland. 

Rating: 3/5 Befuddled Emu
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the unknown (to me) piece of history it so vividly told. Katya was a character I could easily identify with. From the attention to detail of military equipment to the portrayal of life under rations, becoming immersed in Katya’s journey was effortless. 
As much as I liked the story and the writing, I was a bit disappointed by the ending. I expected more of a “punch,” whether of finality or continuance. Either way, Open Fire is an important depiction of the strength and tenacity of not just the Women’s Battalion of Death, but of the countless number of heroic women who have been forgotten by ignorance and time.
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