Girl Last Seen (Nina Laurin)

Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.

An intense psychological thriller for readers of I Am Watching You, The Luckiest Girl Alive, and All the Missing Girls.

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Girl Last Seen is a fascinating thriller told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator… sidenote: that phrase is so funny. When I first saw it on my reading challenge list I was perplexed over what it meant. I could only think of the narrator of an audiobook … one who wasn’t so good at his/her job, who mispronounced the characters’ names? Then I realized, it is the character telling the story, s/he is the narrator. And Laine(y) is a perfect example of this.

Annnd, getting back on topic…

Lainey is a mess. She had a disastrous youth, even before her kidnapping, but she has not healed or adapted well at all. She has abandonment and trust issues, intimacy problems and is a drug addict. Although not recognized as an alcoholic in the story, she also uses hard liquor to drown out her inner demons. She believes she is a fuck-up and that she can never be good because of what happened to her.

Lainey experiences severe emotional and behaviour disorders. As the main (and only POV) character, she is difficult for most readers to relate to but her past trauma is very easily believed as a result.

I’m not sure what it was that bothered me, but I had the hardest time getting through this audiobook. Halfway through I switched to the physical book and finished it in one sitting!

Always remember that if you are having trouble with a novel, maybe something so simple as changing the medium will help.

In Girl Last Seen, Laurin takes a very commonplace core idea of a thriller and writes it from a completely new perspective – one that I haven’t seen anyone else approach before. This helped keep the book fresh in a genre that is exploding with bestsellers right now. I can’t get into the specifics without spoiling it so I will leave it at that.

I did know who was behind the mystery in the end, and there was no one else I ever seriously considered. I wish it had been written with a few more levels to make it harder to discern the identify of the person.

Girl Last Seen is a easy-to-read gripping thriller that is written by a stellar new Canadian author.

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xx

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The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

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They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.

The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados

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I listened to this audiobook on the advice of my friend, Ewa, who has been talking about it since Christmas. And I am using it as one of the categories on my 2018 Reading Challenge 🙂

The Romanov Sisters is a clearly written and detailed account of the lives of the four sisters and the little Tsesarevich from the time of their births until their deaths during the Russian Revolution.

Listening to their story changed many of the perceptions that I had – and clued me in to how many of those stemmed from the Disney film Anastasia – but also created duelling portrayals of Tsar Nicholas II in my mind.

Nicholas II and Alexandra lived rather modest lives in terms of possessions. Their daughters shared bedrooms with single size beds, and were not over-run with presents, although what they did have was of very high quality. Alexandra was much more heavily involved in her children’s upbringing than was common among the aristocracy of Europe at the time, even breastfeeding her children which was unheard of. The main theme throughout the entire book is the deep love shared between these seven people, and it is tragic that it eventually led to their deaths.

The Imperial Family was not well suited to governing the country. Nicholas and Alexandra would have been far more content to remain minor royalty and retreat into a quiet, idyllic life with their children than to be on the international stage. Their love for each other and their family led them to make many decisions that sacrificed image, popularity and power in Russia, further destabilizing an already tumultuous autocracy. Their ends certainly indicate the necessity of Royalty to remain visible and (at least somewhat) accessible to the masses, even at the sacrifice of privacy at times.

The last Tsar of Russia was pious, deeply religious and professed a deep and unfaltering love for his wife and children. Many accounts point to his being a moral man who was just unsuited to ruling. And yet, he showed little understanding of, or compassion for, his suffering peasantry and is the man behind mass jailing of political dissidents, pogroms and Bloody Sunday.

Whatever decision Empress Alexandra made, it was the wrong one. She was either too formal and withdrawn from the Russian people; too heavily involved in raising her children; too pious; too unwilling to open herself up to the innate mysticism of Russian orthodoxy and everyday life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russian culture, yet too willing to accept the mystical and mistrusted Rasputin into her inner circle. During WWI, when she and her eldest daughters became nurses and worked daily in hospital with wounded soldiers, many considered it sacrilegious and a betrayal of Russian Imperialism for the Tsarina and Grand Duchesses to be working so closely with those of lower stations in improper circumstances.

The environment was poisonous and it is hard to imagine whether there could have been any other outcome for Russian Imperialism, even if Nicholas and Alexandra did everything differently.

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xx

Hostage (Criminals and Captives #2)

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I NEVER KNEW WHEN HE’D COME TO ME. ONLY THAT HE WOULD.

I’d never even kissed a boy the night I met Stone. The night I saw him kill. The night he spared my life. That was only the beginning.

He turns up in my car again and again, dangerous and full of raw power. “Drive,” he tells me, and I have no choice. He’s a criminal with burning green eyes, invading my life and my dreams.

The police say he’s dangerously obsessed with me, but I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe it’s wrong to let him touch me. Maybe it’s wrong to touch him back. Maybe these twisted dates need to stop. Except he feels like the only real thing in my world of designer labels and mansions.

So I drive us under threat, until it’s hard to remember I don’t want to be there.

Until it’s too late to turn back.

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Hostage is a loose sequel to the first Criminals & Captives book, Prisoner. However, each can be read independently of one another.

Stone is darker than Grayson (from book 1) but I found that the book was actually a bit lighter. There was more mystery and intrigue in it than in the previous one, as the gang is trying to identify a couple of the key men who ran the human trafficking ring they were trapped in as children. There is none of the on-the-run shenanigans that our first couple went through.

Hostage is a very slow burn romance. When the hero and heroine first meet, she is 16 and he is a decade older. Although intrigued in (and attracted to) each other, the physical aspect of their relationship is not explored until Brooke is an adult. During this period, they only meet a few times, months apart, as Grayson keeps track of her.

There are also a few scenes of struggle and physical restraint that made the story hawt!

There are three main points that have caused me to rate this book as four stars instead of five.

Potential Spoilers ahead!

Firstly, the idea that Brooke’s parents were able to so well hide their destitution while still living the high roller lifestyle publicly is pretty flimsy. At one point it states her mother is working double shifts in a bakery in the next town to keep up appearances in their social circle, but this would never escape notice for long, though it apparently does in the book. The family is on the edge of ruin for years while hiding it from everyone.

It is entirely possible I suppose, but I found that the level of disbelief I was asked to suspend was too much.

Secondly, the identity of Keeper was obvious to me early on.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the ending was way too easy and “light”. Everything just fell together perfectly for the characters. I wish Stone and his boys had roughed Brooke up a little bit in order to get the identity of Keeper out of her. There are tons of dark romance novels out there with interrogation scenes (my favourite is reviewed here!) and it would have been something much more real for the couple to have to work through. As it was, the ending was kinda wah-wah for me. Certainly not dark.

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xx

Shield (Greenstone Security #2)

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My name’s Rosie and I come from a dynasty of sorts… the Sons of Templar, maybe you’ve heard of them.

I just happen to be the daughter of one of the founding members and am the sister of the current president.

The fact I’m a woman means I don’t wear the patch, but it’ll never change the fact that I’m a Templar by blood.

We’re known as royalty in the outlaw world. Though, the dynasty is dancing on the right side of the law these days.

That doesn’t mean that the law and those who enforce it are friends.
It will remain the one constant in my tumultuous life. The one rule in our law-free existence.

Befriending the law and those that enforce it is a betrayal.

Which means me being one half of a doomed love is that much more comical when he’s a cop.

Or was.

Before I went and ruined it all.

Before he shattered that shield he wore to protect society in order to protect me.

He saved me and I damned him.

I damned myself too, but to be honest, I was damned long before that.

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This book was NOT for me. I feel like it is a complete departure from the Rosie character that we have known for years. She is essentially a serial killer, even if she only goes after bad guys. She is more than a little crazy – seriously off the rails. I also hate that Luke seemingly gave up everything that he was working to become in order to be with Rosie. It seemed like he was sacrificing his character and morals and also like previous depictions of him are disingenuous.

The author’s writing style in this book is extremely wordy, which is a trend I have complained about in my other reviews of her recent books. I went back and re-read her first book Making the Cut to see if she always wrote like this or if I am becoming more sensitive to it, but I still enjoy her earlier works, so I definitely feel like her writing style has just evolved in a direction I don’t enjoy.

I may or may not be checking out future books from this author, but it won’t be in this series that is for sure. I think I will wait for her books to be available on Kindle Unlimited in the future.

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xx

The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)

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In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

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The Alice Network has become my favourite book of the year so far. I couldn’t stop listening to it. And I have already started trying to pimp it out to all my friends and family.

It was very interesting to learn more about the spy networks operating during WWI; this isn’t a subject matter that we touched upon when I was in school, mostly focusing on either the trenches or the homefront during the Great War, and then spending the majority of the semester on the Second World War. I had to keep reminding myself that this takes place during 1915. Thinking of how different times were back then … women didn’t even have the right to vote yet, so it is absolutely remarkable that there were real-life female spies operating throughout Europe.

The pace of this story is excellent. Detailed but quick and there were never any parts I felt like skipping ahead through due to boredom. The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, did an amazing job. The characters were all very real to me, which led to heartbreak at times.

I know that The Alice Network has been a bestseller since its release in 2017, and there continues to be a long wait list at my library. It is also a book that has been covered in numerous book clubs and I can see why.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly encourage you to do so ASAP. Push it to the top of your TBR list. I have heard from fans of Kate Quinn that this isn’t even her best book so I will definitely be listening to her others in the near future.

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xx

Dear Aaron (Mariana Zapata)

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Ruby Santos knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she signed up to write a soldier overseas.

The guidelines were simple: one letter or email a week for the length of his or her deployment. Care packages were optional.

Been there, done that. She thought she knew what to expect.

What she didn’t count on was falling in love with the guy.

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So THIS is the book I was supposed to have read before From Lukov With Love. There were no real spoilers by reading them out of order but it still irks me to have done so. I like to read chronologically.

– sigh –

Dear Aaron is a very nontraditional book. The first half is written in the form of letters (technically emails and then IM chats) between the hero, stationed in Iraq, and the heroine, living in Texas.

I think this is such an interesting route for the author to take. She didn’t just use the pen-pal idea as a hook for five chapters to justify its use, before having the characters meet up. They literally corresponded by email for the first nine months that they “knew” each other.

I wonder if Ms. Zapata had a difficult time writing those messages? It certainly doesn’t seem like it, I sorta sunk right into their conversations and got lost in the story. The dialogue between the characters certainly seemed natural to me. At times it is frequently hilarious. ie; conversations about buttholes.

Momma Santos is hilarious and I hope we get to read about Tali falling in love, because I am not done with this family.

The hero Aaron is attractive, kind, and mild-mannered. He and Ruby both have a fantastic sense of humour and are more than a little geeky. Aaron reminds me a bit of Channing Tatum’s character in Dear John.

Except there is a happily ever after in this romance story.

I do wish that the book had covered more time after Aaron and Ruby come together as an official couple but I guess that it is the benefit to reading about Ruby’s sister Jasmine in the follow-up. Updates!

For me, Ruby was the easiest (thus far) of Zapata’s characters to relate to which might have helped me to fall into the rhythm of this book. It is one I would recommend in a heartbeat but the writing style will not appeal to all readers.

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xx

Mine – Books by Nikita Slater

I recently read Mine to Keep and Because You’re Mine by Nikita Slater, a new to me author. These books are listed as being part of a series, but they definitely are s

Mine To Keep: Veronica has always been a good girl.

She’s always listened and done what men wanted. It was easier that way. Less pain, easier to get what she needed to survive. Then a boy rescued her. Now her protector, the boy who saved her, is giving her away. Handing her over to another man. To him. Robert of Senator Security.

She wants to run away from the man who keeps touching her, the man who brings back the pain and the memories. He follows her, protects and hunts her with possession in his eyes. He demands she belong to him and him alone. But Veronica doesn’t want to be an obedient girl anymore.

She wants to be the bad girl she was born to be… and set the woman free.

– and –

Because You’re Mine: Her knight in shining armour or her kidnapper?

Allie has loved Jay forever. But he sent her away when she was eighteen and forced her to live her own life, away from the street and the gangs. Away from him. It had hurt, but she’d done it. For ten years she’d built a career and a life separate from him. Now he’s back and he wants what belongs to him.

Furious that Allie was hurt while out of his protection, Jay decides it’s time to bring the woman he loves home where she belongs. Whether she wants to come or not. He whisks her off to his mountain fortress where she’ll be safe and sets about arranging a new life for her. A life with him. He’s done lurking in the shadows, watching but never touching. She was always his. The difference is, now she knows it.

Will Allie quietly accept her new life and let her old one go? Or will she fight the man she’s loved her entire life because she can’t risk losing herself again…

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Both of these books are novella-length stories of about 120 pages. Mine To Keep is a prequel set seven years before the second book and was my favourite of the two.

Slater’s work features angry, overly protective anti-heroes with dark pasts … shady presents to be honest. They are an insta-love type of romance, which you really have to expect in a novella, and the stories are super easy to read. One sitting for sure.

I wish that the author would take the next step and write “real” books that are full length. She has a decent writing style and interesting stories to tell. She definitely hit the right “he-man anti-hero alpha” mix I devour.

Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of character development, mostly due to the short word count, and her heroines tend to do an about face in personality overnight with little internal agonizing or signs of working through their issues/reticence. Any plot points that should be obstacles for the hero are wrapped up too easily as well.

At the end of the day these books are entertaining enough that I will keep an ear out for information on this author in the future, but not enough that I am going to hunt down and read her other novellas. However, Because You’re Mine hints at a possible third book with an interesting male anti-hero introduced, I will probably read it, especially if my wish comes true and it is full length!

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xx