Impossible Saints
Set in England in 1907, Impossible Saints is a novel that burns as brightly as the suffrage movement it depicts, with the emotional resonance of Tracy Chevalier and Jennifer Robson. Escaping the constraints of life as a village schoolmistress, Lilia Brooke bursts into London and into Paul Harris’s orderly life, shattering his belief that women are gentle creatures who need protection. Lilia wants to change women’s lives by advocating for the vote, free unions, and contraception. Paul, an Anglican priest, has a big ambition of his own: to become the youngest dean of St. John’s Cathedral. Lilia doesn’t believe in God, but she’s attracted to Paul’s intellect, ethics, and dazzling smile.As Lilia finds her calling in the militant Women’s Social and Political Union, Paul is increasingly driven to rise in the church. They can’t deny their attraction, but they know they don’t belong in each other’s worlds. Lilia would rather destroy property and serve time in prison than see her spirit destroyed and imprisoned by marriage to a clergyman, while Paul wants nothing more than to settle down and keep Lilia out of harm’s way. Paul and Lilia must reach their breaking points before they can decide whether their love is worth fighting for.

Impossible Saints Details

TitleImpossible Saints
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJan 2nd, 2018
PublisherPegasus Books
ISBN-139781681776248
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Feminism, Romance, Fiction, European Literature, British Literature, Historical Romance

Impossible Saints Review

  • Rachel McMillan
    January 1, 1970
    from my blog (pardon the loquacious fervour!) "Why is it that men's courage is called bravery but women's courage is called recklessness- or, even worse, foolishness?""That's just it, Harriet. Doesn't It bother you that we're still making the same arguments she (Wollstonecraft) made more than a hundred years ago, and so little has changed?" Imagine a work of fiction that helps you reconcile years of insecurity and forces you to finally confront some of the rifts between the religious traditions from my blog (pardon the loquacious fervour!) "Why is it that men's courage is called bravery but women's courage is called recklessness- or, even worse, foolishness?""That's just it, Harriet. Doesn't It bother you that we're still making the same arguments she (Wollstonecraft) made more than a hundred years ago, and so little has changed?" Imagine a work of fiction that helps you reconcile years of insecurity and forces you to finally confront some of the rifts between the religious traditions that informed your childhood and the views you established as a thinking, reading, hyper-sensitive, feminist-inclined adult.... Imagine this piece of fiction wrapped in a perfect historically romantic (like, honest to Pete romantic with the gushing and the kissing and the pining!) package and bow.... Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood was the best reading experience ( because, indeed, it was an experience), I have had in an age. I was at turns giddy and shaking and smiling so wide my cheeks hurt and then crying --- because it is emotional to read a transparent transcription of all of the challenges you have encountered as a woman eager to reconcile the traditions and conservative beliefs of her childhood with the progressive views of adulthood. Part of me wishes that this novel had been around when I was 17 --trying to find myself in Catherine Marshall and Lynn Austin and Dorothy L Sayers amidst a tradition that found women largely in potluck kitchen service or on nursery duty. A worthy calling--- not my calling. Part of me wishes that when I spent the weekends at Crux bookstore at my alma matter U of T running my finger over the spines of titles on Christian Feminism and doling out a chunk of my student loan on a burgeoning new library that this had intercepted me. But part of me is so happy that it found me now--- now as a woman who has written a series that tries to exercise some of the contradictory tenets of my faith within the structure of two lady detectives wearing trousers and exploring women's roles in confining Edwardian times. And part of me is happy I found it now when I am a little more sure of who I am, what I believe beyond the expectations of others and beyond the traditions of my upbringing. "I wouldn't mind being an outcast if I were free to live and work as I choose" I am a huge believer in the kismet that happens when the right books find the right reader. Often at odds with my strong opinionated feminist views pitted against my upbringing as a pentecostal minister's kid, I have an insatiable thirst for the dialogue and debate that pings throughout this brilliant and evocative historical treatise on faith and conviction. And while I still muse on and try to decipher how the square peg of feminism can fit in the circular hole of the Church's long traditions books like this--- wonderfully packaged in a beautiful, excessively readable love story, there is the brilliant elasticity that allows for interaction with characters who play out all of the questions and thoughts and muddled confusions of tradition and faith and feminism on a well-worded page. And yet if you're like: what? NO! I want to read for enjoyment! Well, Saints be Praised! You get that, too! this is a rare package of perfectly lovely prose enveloping deeper truths. In 1907, teacher Lillia Brook re-establishes her friendship with Canon Paul Harris, a rising figure at St. John's Cathedral who helped her navigate Greek and Latin studies in her formative years-- by letter- when such subjects were deemed useless to females best honed to play angel of the hearth. Lillia and Paul's re-acquaintance in adulthood sparks from their first meeting as they encounter themselves as pendants for Women's Suffrage and the Tradition of the Church ---the quintessential male sphere-- respectively.While Lillia becomes more deeply involved in the growing danger of the Women's Movement in a circle that includes Emmeline Pankhurst, Paul is forced to confront his comfort in the sacred symbol and tradition of the church ---communion, prayer, the solemn process of a worshipful Sunday with the worship in action met head on when he accompanies Lillia to the brutal cloisters of a penitentiary for fallen women. It is in these early chapters--- so lovingly expressed and evoking the feeling of a hot cup of tea with a dose of Masterpiece theatre on a sun-slanted weekend--- that Harwood begins to develop her deeper thesis. A startling contradiction of tradition meted against two shifting worlds that startlingly parallel ongoing conversations in the modern church. "Miss Wells, I'm not in the least concerned about my reputation." A complicated love story set amidst the turmoil and transition of the shifting roles of tradition in anglo catholicism and the pressure to move worship into action beyond the pulpit paralleled with the changing course of women finally meeting their snatches and life outside the home with violence and misery! WAS THIS WRITTEN FOR ME???! A love story that intellectually and spiritually challenges the reader to confront the loop holes in their own beliefs as they sit across from Paul and Lillia who, on equal mental footing, discover themselves and their roles in each other's lives through constant debate? IS IT MY BIRTHDAY???! And romance? OH ROMANCE! clutch your heart and catch your breath romance---- sparring here is hotter than kissing and the romance Paul and Lillia find is symbolic of a marriage between a shifting church meeting head-on the demands and views of its expectant believers. So, this is not your run of the mill " Oh! he has a dazzling smile and my heart grows faint" type cliche-- though, yes, he does have a dazzling smile--yet the evocation of true attraction between two mismatched puzzle pieces that need to figure out how to tweak themselves to fit into each other's lives.Both are forced to put faith in action: Paul beyond the sacraments of worship by Lillia who changes how he views worship and Lillia who opens her mind to meet him halfway. And you know that delicious moment in books when a character realizes their true love for someone when they unwittingly step up to defend them? (Hello Bella Wilfer for John Harmon against Mr. Boffin in Our Mutual Friend) we get TONS OF THAT HERE! WHAT BETTER TYPE OF LOVE STORY IS THAT THAN BETWEEN PEOPLE WHO ALLOW THEIR HEARTS TO BE CHANGED and are willing to reconsider convictions that, to this point in their lives, were etched in stone? ( I know, I know, so many caps ---but I cannot contain my enthusiasm here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I were sitting across from you my hands would be excessively flailing)Their compromise and eventually synchronicity encourages growth as two people willing to shift their stubborn views to let some leeway. A treatise on the changes modernizing an era where everyone's roles were falling away and a new type of woman ( and man ) strode to find equal footing. And Harwood does this ingeniously-- -quietly--- thoughtfully--- with little crumbs in the narrative: the pipes of the masculine sphere in Lillia's boarding house, the importance of Paul's given name in contrast to the historical part that spoke for women's silence--- all of these little notes strung throughout ... ugh! so goooood! I die, Horatio... anyways... What we sometimes forget about the power of fiction is how it can be used as a mirror or lens to our experiences and preconceptions. More still, how it can be the bind that helps us reconcile our past. When you view the world through the lens of fictional emblems it becomes a safe space to be mentally engaged, spiritually moved, and challenged to change. There is a balm in the constraints of fiction that allow your mind and heart to roam free in a way you might not confront what the fiction offers in real life or conversation. Is fiction a mode of conversation, of course---- but it is something silent and ruminative and in Impossible Saints I watched the war between my Christian upbringing and beliefs and my feminist views rile on the page in Paul and Lillia."I can see you've placed me in the category of the fast, modern woman, and there I'll stay until I can prove to you I'm a real person."It takes a lot for a book to resound echoes long after the constructs of its time period, but Impossible Saints is relevant. Relevant to anyone who is shaped by expectation, latches to tradition while still at odds with the convictions that force us to grapple with the malleability of theological tenets and basic human principles. It is really brilliant to have this sewn up within the pattern of a novel and makes it accessible for readers who struggle and yearn to be challenged with their entertainment. For as much as I would love to posture about the higher tenets of this book's grappling with spiritual, philosophical and humane truths, so I am always reminded of how friggin' ENJOYABLE the whole darned thing is. Because, seriously, beyond the awesome discovery that it would hit me like the best kind of anvil, its time period and subject are TOTAL RACHEL CATNIP! I walked out of the film Suffragette a few years ago feeling flat--- like it was an open pop left out and devoid of fizz--- but all that I wanted it to be is resplendent here in a flesh and blood and contradictory heroine. I finish an episode of Grantchester wishing that the dominant male sphere would be countered more by feminine influence beyond the wishy-washy turn ups of fashionable Amanda--- and I find it here as Paul's mind broadens and stretches with Lillia's influence.I often cite Catherine Marshall's Christy as a true love story: thinking of how agnostic doctor Neil MacNeill challenges Christy to believe for herself beyond the expectations or platitudes of the Mission. It is in this that he shows true love and devotion: interested in hearing her as more than a mouthpiece, wanting a peek inside. Here ,we have two people who through danger, loss and strife are willing to sacrifice and meet in the middle after many (exceptionally well-written) snapshots into their debates. As they verbally spar, so you might very well meet new thoughts and ideas that will encourage you to put the book aside and work things out for a little bit. At one point in the novel, an unhappily married woman repeatedly calls " all men cowards" -- cowards who must rise or work and strive to raise themselves up in church or society --- And yet Harwood's book proves the opposite of that again and again in two characters who are shaped in the truest form of courage there is --willing to stumble and fall and admit fallacy, willing to sacrifice moments of dignity and pride in order to find a surer footing with each other and with the higher plains they subscribe to. Write me this romance again and again, world, for it is not only the romance between two people finding a lasting and heart-clenching love but the romance in finding a surer belief in ones instincts when acting on conviction beyond human or church expectations.I have an equal readership of faith based readers and non and while I am speaking to this book as it pertains to my faith experience, rest assured that it is not a prerequisite. This can be read as a whizbang- good- snap -crackle -and- pop story of historical romance which just happens to pair two people at odds with each other and one of these odds is Paul's life as a clergyman. You don't need a lexicon or even to believe to enjoy. Moreover, it offers a succinct and troubling look at the brutality and intolerance facing the women who sacrificed their livelihood and comfort for a greater cause.There are the books you want to hand out to people so that they can understand your heart and mind and the vulnerable pieces of yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. .... hand them out at Christmas with a little bow and a card that says "here, steal inside my heart for a moment." And this is that book. This is one of those thumb-printed on my heart and mind and resolve and more especially interwoven into the fabric of my reading life forevermore. So I will forever be grateful to a casual facebook chain where a friend tagged me in a post about this book (the post by another author I fangirl over--- Jennifer Delamere) because this is just.... ack! I cannot even form complete and cohesive sentences anymore... just make sure you preorder this book and read it and think about it and mull on it and then revisit it. ....I know I will --- interred again and again into my perennial collection....QUOTES: Lillia had never given much thought to his physical appearance. Indeed, there was nothing remarkable about it--- except when he smiled. And she realized, now, when he preached. It was as if the cathedral was his natural setting, the only place where a rare, powerful illumination could blaze out from inside him. The man and his setting were equally beautiful. They lived in two different worlds that were more often than not hostile toward each other.I don't know if you realize how lucky you are.You're free. No man has a claim on you. No man has conquered and enslaved you mentally, physically, or spiritually. You're not free from all struggle and suffering--of course, you must feel lonely, you must have desires-- but you haven't bound yourself to a man you'll come to despise. Men don't want to be married to stupid or vacuous womenI'm starting to become suspicious of your motives for becoming a priest. Your position is too convenient an excuse for breaking rules that ordinary people must abide by.He sent me copies of his lessons and corrected my mistakes. I may be the only woman in Britain with an education from one of the best public boys' schools. pre-order 10 copies for your book club here (DO IT!-- need discussion questions? heck! I'll write them for free) [pre-order another 5 copies for all of your friends and family afterward]Add it to your Goodreads "to read" shelf so you don't forget ( as if I would let you forget--- I won't--- I will be back in December reminding you ) and thanks thanks thanks to Pegasus and Netgalley for this ARC
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  • Wit & Wonder Books
    January 1, 1970
    *** ARC provided by the author for an honest review ***Learn how a true suffragette balances life and love in Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood. Meet and fall in love with the kindness and strength of Ms. Lilia Brooke.Lilia Brooke is the only child to the local headmaster. Her dreams and ambition have never been curtailed by her father. She was able to attend one of the best colleges that allow women, and graduated at the top of her class. As schoolmistress, she has the belief that all young *** ARC provided by the author for an honest review ***Learn how a true suffragette balances life and love in Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood. Meet and fall in love with the kindness and strength of Ms. Lilia Brooke.Lilia Brooke is the only child to the local headmaster. Her dreams and ambition have never been curtailed by her father. She was able to attend one of the best colleges that allow women, and graduated at the top of her class. As schoolmistress, she has the belief that all young girls should have the same level of education as their male counterparts, and will stop at nothing in order to make this so. After one particularly brutal confrontation with a parent, her father sends her off to England, where her journey really begins.In England, 1907, women are not seen as equals to the men of the world. The Suffragette Movement is alive and well. This is the perfect place for Lilia. She becomes a leader in the movement, and will stop at nothing to make her thoughts and beliefs heard. There’s just one things. She has fallen in love with a local priest, who will stop at nothing to keep her safe and sound. But will love deter Lilia from her ultimate goal? Can she have love and the movement? Will Paul be happy with having Lilia in his life? Or will he give up? Will the fight ultimately come to their door?I really liked this book. As a woman, the Suffragette movement is an important time in history for me. It allowed for women to be able to gain the ability to be free. Free of the confines of the social order that took over for so long in the world. Free to vote and to make decisions for themselves. Free to decide who they will marry, or if they will marry. Lilia is a strong and powerful person. More powerful for a woman reading this book. This was a great read. Five stars.
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  • Ashley
    January 1, 1970
    I received a free e-copy of Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood is a one of a kind book. It will stay with me and become one of the books I read over and over again. It’s not because of the romance aspect but because of Lilia, the portrayal of the suffrage movement and Paul. There were many times I found myself laughing, smiling and pressing a hand to my chest with sadness. Both Lilia and Paul struggle throug I received a free e-copy of Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood is a one of a kind book. It will stay with me and become one of the books I read over and over again. It’s not because of the romance aspect but because of Lilia, the portrayal of the suffrage movement and Paul. There were many times I found myself laughing, smiling and pressing a hand to my chest with sadness. Both Lilia and Paul struggle throughout. It wasn’t only the struggle for the right to vote but it was in them finding themselves. Often times when reading fiction set during the suffrage movement, you see it romanticized. You don’t get to see how hard and how far women would go for this right. I feel like Harwood did her research and made sure the readers could feel the passion of the women, how far they would go and how the people in their lives dealt with how society saw that. Paul, as a Canon in the church, struggles with accepting Lilia’s involvement in such militant group. But once he realizes Lilia was never meant for the restrictions society put on her and he recognized what his feelings toward her truly were, he’s supportive even if it isn’t considered respectable. Lilia and Paul’s relationship at times made me crazy, but in the best way. They began as friends in their youth and reconnect. The development from friends, to the possibility of more and then to admitting their feelings, it was worth all the heartache and the journey they had to take.Would I recommend this to others? Oh yes. I’m going to buy a physical copy to keep on my shelves as well.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    Of course I love this novel - I'm her agent! If you love fierce and fiery suffragettes, complicated romances, and Grantchester on PBS/BBC, this book is for you!
  • Annarella
    January 1, 1970
    A wonderful debut, a solid plot, and intriguing characters. A book i would advise to people who are looking for historical fiction with something more. A bit too sedate and emphatic at times but really good on a generale level.It surely deserves five stars.Many thanks to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for giving me the chance to review this book.
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  • Jennifer Klepper
    January 1, 1970
    There are two things I love to get from historical fiction, especially when I am thinking about whether it's a good book club book. First, does it teach me something I didn't know and make me want to learn even more? Second, does it lend itself to spirited discussion and debate? IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS nailed it for both of these considerations. Clarissa Harwood clearly loves London of the early 20th Century, as well as the history of the suffrage movement. She weaves these historical elements through There are two things I love to get from historical fiction, especially when I am thinking about whether it's a good book club book. First, does it teach me something I didn't know and make me want to learn even more? Second, does it lend itself to spirited discussion and debate? IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS nailed it for both of these considerations. Clarissa Harwood clearly loves London of the early 20th Century, as well as the history of the suffrage movement. She weaves these historical elements through a story of a headstrong and intelligent woman bent on changing the world while falling into a relationship (with an Anglican priest) that seems contrary to all of her other life goals. After reading IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS, I feel armed with a foundational knowledge of British suffrage, and would love to dig through Harwood's sources to learn more.As for the second consideration (good book club discussion), the headstrong Lilia and the decisions she makes are perfect for book clubs. I can't get into the specifics without spoiling things, but let's just say I expected a different outcome and would argue to the death about why (and probably get just as much in return from my book club mates). Further, the topic itself, women's fundamental rights, is ripe for discussion any time, but especially in today's political environment. I think any women's book club would have a great meeting based on this book.
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  • Tiffany S
    January 1, 1970
    It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that barely over a 100 years ago, women were giving up their lives for the right to vote. Women were imprisoned for fighting for the right to vote. Women were ostracized for wanting the right to vote.Impossible Saints reminds us of all these facts and more. I definitely recommend adding it to your to read lists.Lilia Brooke is a protagonist you root for as she leaves a small town in England to fight for the right to vote. You see a relationship where It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that barely over a 100 years ago, women were giving up their lives for the right to vote. Women were imprisoned for fighting for the right to vote. Women were ostracized for wanting the right to vote.Impossible Saints reminds us of all these facts and more. I definitely recommend adding it to your to read lists.Lilia Brooke is a protagonist you root for as she leaves a small town in England to fight for the right to vote. You see a relationship where she must choose doing what feels right for HER or fighting for ALL. You see her other relationships/friendships and how some want her to fit into what THEY think a woman should do. We all need to give thanks to the real women who fought for us!This is one of those books you think please make a limited run series (hint HBO) because too much to cover in a 2 hour movie but soo much to learn and realize.Thanks Netgalley for the chance to read this book!!
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  • Theresa Therrien-dacey
    January 1, 1970
    Temptation takes many forms and IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS by Clarissa Harwood explores the theme of temptation in different ways. Paul, an ambitious clergyman, has fallen in love with Lilia, a temptation that causes him to question the things he thought were important. Lilia aspires to be like her hero, Joan of Arc: strong, passionate and independent. Though she is undeniably attracted to Paul, she believes she cannot give into the temptation of love and also be who she wants to be. Harwood’s feminist s Temptation takes many forms and IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS by Clarissa Harwood explores the theme of temptation in different ways. Paul, an ambitious clergyman, has fallen in love with Lilia, a temptation that causes him to question the things he thought were important. Lilia aspires to be like her hero, Joan of Arc: strong, passionate and independent. Though she is undeniably attracted to Paul, she believes she cannot give into the temptation of love and also be who she wants to be. Harwood’s feminist slant on the trope gives readers much to consider. If Paul loves Lilia, he can hardly begin by trying to make her other than who she is. Lilia’s struggle will resonate with women today because yearning for love, family and belonging is still seen as weakness. That yearning, that temptation, was then and is even now in opposition to ambition and success for women in a way that it is not for men. IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS is an intriguing journey into the history of the feminist movement examining not only how far we’ve come, but also the things that have NOT changed over the course of a century. This important story connects the present feminist movement with the foundations on which it began.
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  • Genna
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.Okay, jeez, finally reviewing this.Bored and unsatisfied with her life as a schoolmistress, Lilia exchanges the tedious doldrums of her rural village existence for one of drama and danger with the suffrage movement in London. Advocating not only for the women's vote, but for the highly controversial issue of contraception, Lilia is thrust into the center of a charged, often violent, circle. A priest in the Anglican church, Pau I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.Okay, jeez, finally reviewing this.Bored and unsatisfied with her life as a schoolmistress, Lilia exchanges the tedious doldrums of her rural village existence for one of drama and danger with the suffrage movement in London. Advocating not only for the women's vote, but for the highly controversial issue of contraception, Lilia is thrust into the center of a charged, often violent, circle. A priest in the Anglican church, Paul aspires to a position as dean with the St. John's Cathedral. Opposites in their religious beliefs and political involvement, childhood friends Lilia and Paul are nonetheless drawn to each other's intellect and passion. But reconnecting brings an unexpected disarray to both of their lives, particularly when a public association with a militant suffragette could mar Paul's reputation and ruin his chances of rising within the church. But his interest in keeping Lilia from harm's way, and Lilia's own irresistible draw to her close friend, despite her vehemence in resisting traditional marriage, will force the pair to confront their own stubborn beliefs and convictions while making impossible choices about their love for each other.Impossible Saints is a unique read elaborating on a period of British history that is not typically seen in historical fiction. Harwood uses an unexpected romance to lighten the sober subject matter of this narrative, but in no way did I find it to detract from the significance of a story steeped in dark history. However, readers looking for an exclusively informative historical novel may find the flirting and courting to be distracting. While a majority of the novel flows seamlessly, the midpoint of Impossible Saints lags, with a surplus of romantic back and forth that grows tedious. But while my interest flagged during this portion of the story, my dedication to these characters and their unique stories kept me invested. Alternately verdant and harrowing, Harwood establishes a balance between narrating the heroism of fearless female trailblazers and the uncertainties of a developing love. Lilia is a stalwart and inspired character and a noble tribute to the women in history she represents. Impossible Saints is a testament to the power of fiction in its ability to transport, transform, and inspire a reader. A must read for those interested in women's suffrage and the provocative relationship between faith and feminism._______________________________________This is a unique book and was a really special read for me. Working on a review.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    I was drawn to this novel mainly due to the subject matter. The suffragette movement strikes a chord with me and I'm sure many women and seemed especially relevant to today's recent events. I did not know much about the movement in England, so from a historical point of view I found it very interesting. The story of the women involved and especially their treatment from society and in jail was especially compelling. However, I felt at times the story was lacking. It's hard to put into words what I was drawn to this novel mainly due to the subject matter. The suffragette movement strikes a chord with me and I'm sure many women and seemed especially relevant to today's recent events. I did not know much about the movement in England, so from a historical point of view I found it very interesting. The story of the women involved and especially their treatment from society and in jail was especially compelling. However, I felt at times the story was lacking. It's hard to put into words what was lacking but there were moments where I tended to lose interest. The romance between Paul and Lilia started off well. However, towards the end of the novel, I felt like the author was just trying to wrap things up quickly and give the characters their happy ending. I struggled with giving this 3 stars instead of 4. Clarissa Harwood is a gifted writer and the story is definitely interesting and worth the read. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC for review.
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