It is December 1941, and eight-year-old Galina and her friend Vera are caught in the siege of Leningrad, eating soup made of wallpaper, with the occasional luxury of a dead rat. Galina’s artist father Mikhail has been kept away from the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could now provide a safe haven, provided Mikhail can navigate the perils of a portrait commission from one of Stalin’s colonels.

Nearly forty years later, Galina herself is a teacher at the Leningrad Art Academy. What ought to be a celebratory weekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting she embarks upon that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes way for the new Russia and Galina’s familiar world changes out of all recognition.

Warm, wise and utterly enthralling, Molly Gartland’s debut novel guides us from the old communist world, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the glitz and bling of 21st-century St Petersburg. Galina’s story is at once a compelling page-turner and an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia.

E-book available worldwide.

Paperback available in the USA and UK.

*I receive a small percentage of the profits on purchases made on my page.

  • mollygartland

As 2021 staggers across the finish line, it is time for my yearly review of books. I have had a great year of reading and it gives me great pleasure to share my list. One thing I noticed when going through this year’s reads was that I had read far fewer BAME authors and authors in translation. My 2020 reading list was much more diverse. In 2022, I’d like to make a point to seek out a wider variety of authors.

I’d love to hear about your favourites this year! Please leave recommendations in the comments below.

Without further delay, here are my 2021 Favourites.

The Young Survivors by Debra Barnes

This book is marketed as YA but it is engaging and interesting for adults as well. If I’m honest, I was reluctant to read this one. It is a story of a Jewish family during the holocaust and initially I was not sure if I was up for it but I am very glad I did. Inspired by the author’s mother, it is a important story of love, resilience and just plain luck. Highly recommend.

A History of Loneliness, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Yes, this author gets no less than 3 books on my top list of 2021. I had not read any of his books until this year and I think he is fabulous. The first two listed are set in Ireland and both tangle with the topic of paedophilia and growing up in the Catholic church. While A Ladder to the Sky gives a glimpse into the dog-eat-dog world of prize winning authors and the publishing industry-what could possibly go wrong? I’m so glad I came across Boyne’s work this year. He’s brilliant.

Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCrosky Coupe

This story spans from the 1940s into modern day, a time period very similar to my own novel, The Girl from the Hermitage. But it is set in America and traces a friendship between a white girl and an African American girl. Well written and thought provoking.

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Set in an extremely isolated 18th century Newfoundland, this book is brilliantly written. It explores an intense bond between siblings under harsh circumstances. It is haunting, disturbing and not for the faint hearted.

Charity by Madeline Dewhurst

A duel timeline book which alternates between modern day London and Kenya in the 1950s. I love historical fiction which considers how events of the past ripple through time and continue to impact today. A brilliant debut.

The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

I listened to the audible version of this book and it is great. This is Louise’s second book and it does not disappoint. Set in the 20s, it is about a couple who are involved with the eugenics movement but then discover their own child has epilepsy. This is historical fiction at its best. The research and detail never overshadow the characters and storyline. Highly recommend, along with her debut.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Another heavy, difficult to stomach book but the writing is truly outstanding. Inspired by the author’s mother’s experiences, the story is set in rural Ohio in the 50s/60s, and explores growing up in a dysfunctional family.

Charlotte by Helen Moffet

After several heavy books, I turned to Charlotte. Moffat develops the story of Pride and Prejudice, focusing on the story of Charlotte. I loved this book. It was refreshing and fun and there's a sexy piano tuner.

A Book of Secrets by Kate Morrison

A story of a west African woman in Tudor England and it offers a little glimpse into the world of publishing at that time. Extremely well researched yet I never felt a dump of information. Brilliant. And what a gorgeous cover. Loved it.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

This is the first Kate Quinn that I have read and I was not disappointed. Set in Bletchley Park during the war, this book tells the story of the women code breakers who worked there. Pacey storytelling, great characters and there’s cocktails and dancing with Philip (before he married HRH Princess Elizabeth).

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  • mollygartland

Well, here we are 1 year since the UK launch of of my debut novel, The Girl from the Hermitage. I haven’t posted on my blog in quite a while so I thought I would take a bit of time to look back on the rollercoaster year of being a debut novelist.

While publishing a novel has not been wildly lucrative, the experience of putting my book baby out into the world has been rewarding in many other ways. There have been pleasant surprises throughout a year which has been such a difficult time for everyone.

In no particular order, here are some of the highlights:

1. My hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan has been wonderful. Over this past year I have felt so very far away from my parents and my roots but Kalamazoo has come through to support me in many ways. I’ve received encouragement from former teachers, friends, family and the community at large. I had a brilliant digital session with the Kalamazoo Russian Cultural Association. Bookbug has kept my novel stocked on their shelf. And the Kalamazoo Institute of Art invited me to speak at their book club. All of these events have contributed to make Kalamazoo the epicentre of my US sales. I know I can count on the Zoo!

2. Comradery with other authors. Early on in 2020, my friend and fellow author Louise Fein got me involved with a brilliant debut author group. Throughout the year, we have supported, commiserated, and celebrated together. We’ve created promotional opportunities and have had a good laugh. Publishing is a crazy industry and it is great to know that we can have a good moan in the safety of our Facebook group. This talented group of authors have produced a wide variety of books and you can see our powerhouse of publications on our bookshop page.

3. Stretching out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned so many new skills since writing my debut. I made this website. I’ve become comfortable with public speaking. I’ve set up digital events on Eventbrite. I didn’t even know how to use Twitter and Instagram before all of this kicked off! It has been brilliant to stretch and grow in a year that made our worlds smaller and smaller.

4. Hearing from readers has been a delight. I love getting messages from readers who have enjoyed my book. And they always seem to land in my mailbox right when I need it the most. My Girl may have resonated or reached a reader in a very personal way or perhaps they simply enjoyed reading it. Here’s a flavour of some of the messages I’ve received:

· My dad was born in Russia (he came to the US in 1910) and I wish he were here to read The Girl from the Hermitage..

· As an 84 year old watercolourist with everything I need to begin oil painting except the courage to put a canvas on the easel, I was inspired by all the descriptions of Galina and her father preparing to paint.

· I have never been to Russia or St Petersburg but I felt as if I was there at every moment. And I so loved most of the characters, Mikhail, Galina, Boris - all painted with such a fine brush.

· I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I was transported back to our days in the Russia of the 1990’s, to the stories of artists we met just trying to survive in the new Russia and to the progeny of prisoners of the gulags.

· The Girl from the Hermitage is a great story. It has incredibly interesting characters, is well-written, and was very hard to put down each night because it kept me wanting to read more! This was a perfect book for me.

· I lived in the former Soviet Union the same years you lived in Moscow. I so enjoyed your description of the foods, seeing the words I remember and the experience of life there.

· It is wonderful. I loved the real characters, the captivating story, the Russian setting and history and the painting. You must be an artist as well as an author as I felt as though I was doing the painting as you described the character painting.

· Incredibly touching, subtle and beautiful book. I’m so glad I discovered this wonderful American author with an understanding of the Russian soul and culture.

It has been a great year, despite all the noise and anxiety of our poxy world. And I am thrilled that The Girl from the Hermitage has made its way into so many hands. To everyone who has bought my book, enthusiastically recommended it to people, taken it out from the library, given it as a gift, written a review or posted about it on social media, I thank you! Debut authors need as much help as we can muster and I’ve had so many people go out of their way to give my book a little boost. THANK YOU. And happy birthday to my Hermitage Girl.

Have I mentioned The Girl from the Hermitage makes an excellent Christmas gift???

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  • mollygartland

Updated: May 17, 2021

I am delighted to be involved with three digital events in May. Each event has different content but they are all free and open to anyone around the world.

Stay at Home Lit Fest

May 1st, 3pm UK, 10 am Eastern US

Ripples Through Time: Finding Inspiration for Historical Fiction

I will be on a panel with three historical fiction novelists (Debra Barnes, Poppy Cooper and Nguyen Phan Que Mai). We will be talking about the inspiration behind our books and how real events influence plot and character. This international panel will discuss books set in Vietnam, France, Russia and the UK. This will be a great conversation. If you missed the event, you can watch a recording here.

West Hollywood Russian Arts & Culture Festival

May 15, 10am Pacific, 6 pm UK

How did a gal from Kalamazoo end up writing a novel set in Russia?

The Girl from the Hermitage is not about my experiences of living in Russia, but it would have been impossible for me to write this book without having lived there in the 90s. I’ll be talking about how my time in Russia influenced the novel and my experiences of living in Russia in the 90s. If you missed this event, the recording is available here.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

May 19, 2pm Eastern, 7 pm UK

I will be the guest author at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts book discussion group. This will be a Q&A about The Girl from the Hermitage and anyone is welcome to join the conversation. My hometown has been wonderful in supporting my book and I look forward to this conversation. I don't think this will be recorded. Register here.

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Originally from Michigan, Molly Gartland worked in Moscow from 1994 to 2000 and has been fascinated by Russian culture ever since.

She has an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and lives in London.

The manuscript for her debut novel The Girl from the Hermitage was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Bath Novel Award and Grindstone Novel Award.




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