I loved the historical aspects of this book - especially how it started out as a fairy tale and then gradually morphed into a true story. The Russian side of WWII was a new learning experience for me. The images of Leningrad going from a magical snow kingdom to a stark, bombed out, starving city were vivid and harsh and very well written.
I also liked the twist at the end. Unexpected and heart-rending.
That being said, the rest of the novel wasn't as exciting. I really didn't like Meredith, especially in the beginning. Too much of a control freak and too stubborn, and she would whine about no one else helping out when she wouldn't let anyone do anything. It drove me crazy. And toward the end, when she was becoming "a better person", I still wasn't a fan, but she wasn't as bad as she was at the beginning.
Nina was ok, but she was also a bit blind to something that was right in front of her nose. Both sisters were supposed to be independent, intelligent women, but there were times in the book where I wanted to slap them upside the head for not noticing the obvious.
While I'm on the topic of the women...the mother, Anya, I liked her. I liked her depth and her sadness and her strength, but her craziness was kind of random. She had crazy moments for a couple of times after the tragic event of the beginning, but then, magically, they went away. She had no craziness for twenty years, then was crazy for a few weeks, then it went away again. I'm no psychiatrist, but I'm not sure that's how it works...
The book itself started out very slowly. Nothing really happened until about 120 pages in. The beginning was a lot of character set-up and analysis, and I really feel it was unnecessary and could have started a lot quicker. I almost skipped ahead, but I was good and read every word...
If this book focused more on the history and less on the modern times, I think I would have enjoyed it more. 3.5 stars, just because it appealed to my history-loving nature.