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 Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections.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

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Bind Me by Anna Zaires

** Bind Me is the second book in the Capture Me series, and these books need to be read in order. It is a companion series to Twist Me.

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Synopsis:

He’s determined to break her.

For Lucas Kent, his new prisoner is a maddening contradiction: compliant yet defiant, fragile yet strong. He needs to uncover her secrets, but doing so may ruin everything.

His obsession could destroy her.

She’s determined to escape.

For Yulia Tzakova, her captor is the man of both her dreams and her nightmares: tender one moment, cruel the next. She can’t let him crack her, but resisting him may leave her broken.

A moment of weakness could cost her everything.

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I love Lucas and Yulia! They have great chemistry together and I love the darker elements of this story. It reads very differently from how the Twist Me series played out, but it works. The best things about this book are that we see a whole lot more interaction between the two and the emotional entanglement deepens.

Lucas decides that he has to keep her and sets about trying to learn all Yulia’s secrets. I got the sense that he was almost keeping her as a pet. He loves her and lusts after her, but they can never be equal partners in this relationship. His goal is to keep her safe – from herself as much as the rest of the world – containing her while indulging in carnal pleasures.

It’s about tying her to me, binding her so tightly she’ll never be able to leave.

Zaires, Anna; Zales, Dima. Bind Me (Capture Me Book 2) (Kindle Location 510). Mozaika Publications. Kindle Edition.

I got so frustrated with Yulia, for not opening up and sharing with Lucas about her brother. Her secrecy is meant to protect him, and I can understand logically that she believes Lucas will kill anyone important to her, especially since he is connected to the Agency, but as a reader, we know that Lucas believes this man she is protecting is her lover, not a teenage brother.

Ignoring the part of me that revolts at the idea of injuring Lucas, I take the fork, slip it into the back pocket of my shorts, and close the cabinet. I can’t allow him to break me. My brother’s life depends on it.

Zaires, Anna; Zales, Dima. Bind Me (Capture Me Book 2) (Kindle Locations 1196-1198). Mozaika Publications. Kindle Edition.

My favourite scenes in this book were Lucas breaking beneath the protective shell Yulia wraps around herself to find out about her past and the Agency that she worked for. They were steamy and intense and emotionally scarring for Yulia but that is what makes such a great story for the reader! I also loved when she tries to teach Lucas how to cook. It changes up the power dynamics established early on, if only briefly, and is a humorous aside to otherwise dark material.

“Okay, that’s enough potatoes, I think,” she says, getting up. Her flip-flops— the only shoes I got her— make a slapping noise on the tile floor as she comes toward me. “Now we need to take the garlic, mix it with dill, salt, and pepper, and place everything on a frying pan. You have oil, right?”

“Oil. Check.” I grab a bottle of olive oil from a cabinet to my left. “Do I pour it over the potatoes?”

She props her hip on the edge of the countertop. “You’re kidding me, right?” I frown, not appreciating the mockery. She bursts out laughing. “Lucas, seriously. Have you never fried anything in your life?”

“Nothing that was edible afterwards,” I grudgingly admit. “I may have tried it once or twice and given up.”

Zaires, Anna; Zales, Dima. Bind Me (Capture Me Book 2) (Kindle Locations 1028-1034). Mozaika Publications. Kindle Edition.

My main complaint about Bind me is that the story was too long. I felt that it would have been better to combine the first and second novels but thankfully, the author has posted that the third (and final) book in this series will be longer. In addition, the upcoming Claim Me is said to have some more scenes with Julian and Nora!

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xx

Hidden Monsters – a review

Hidden Monsters is the fourth full novel in the Volkov Bratva Mafia series.
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Blurb:

Until Luka…

Aleksandra Volkov happily escaped into the oblivion that alcohol and pills provided, longing to forget the memories that plague her. But sometimes, it takes someone as equally broken to mend the fractured pieces of her life.

Until Alex…

Luka Sergeyev willfully courted death by living in the midst of the very people who would have him killed if the truth of who he was ever came out. But he would gladly take that risk if it meant she would look at him like he mattered for just a little while longer.

When it comes to life within the Volkov Bratva, love comes at a price, secrets are common, and most of all, one’s survival is not guaranteed.

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Hidden Monsters is the fourth book in the Volkov Bratva series, featuring Russian-American monsters and the women they love. It is the only story between Alex and Luka.

Much like the previous books that I also reviewed, Hidden Monsters is a young/new adult romance novel about the Russian Mafia operating in NYC. Alex is a ballerina, whose brother Mishca is the Pakhan (or leader) of the NY organization.

Luka is the only one who sees that she is drowning after the revelations of the last few years. Not wanting to intrude on her brother and sister-in-laws newly wedded bliss, a stranger from her newly discovered brother Klaus and half a world away from her school and professional ballet friends, Alex spirals further and further, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain inside. Until Luka discovers what she is doing and steps in, putting her in rehab, the Mafioso version.

I love the completed web of plots that the author mixed into the novel, from the complicated relationships between Luka and Alex, Alex and Mishica, and Luka and Mishca, to the Albanian ties that existed from the beginning of the series, it felt like the fitting finale missing at the conclusion of The Final Hour.

I like the sense of closure that this book brought to the series. My only regret is that I felt the ending was rushed.

** Minor Spoilers **

This is a romance novel with a happily ever after, so of course Luka survives and reunites with Alex. I felt like this section was too rushed, a couple more chapters would have been useful. I wanted to see bits and pieces of Alex and Mishca repairing their relationship, the fragmentation of which was covered so thoroughly.

A lot of authors tend to do this, reunite the couple and then quickly end the novel. Um hello?!! We just had the big climax and then one chapter of reunion and that is it? Maybe I’m a little sensitive but I want to be led out of the story more slowly. Ease me back into the real world. Tie up loose ends such as the mains’ relationships with supporting characters. You spend an entire book (or series!) developing these relationships and making us believe in them, don’t ignore them now!!!!

Ok, baby rant aside, I loved this book. I hope that the author has plans to write a novel for Klaus. I suspect she will from the tidbits we have gotten, but it might be more the first novel of another series, rather than a part of this one. He seems to have a lot going on away from this cast.

I loved Hidden Monsters and read it very quickly. London Miller has matured in writing since starting with Lauren and Mishca, and it has become my second favourite Russian Bratva series.

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xx

 

 

Volkov Bratva Series Review

Hi ya’ll,

I’m going to review this series as a trilogy instead of as individual books, because I kinda read them all in one weekend…. whoops! Makes it hard to distinguish where one book leaves off and another begins when you do that.

The Volkov Bratva books are a Russian Mafia romance set in New York, where pre-med student Lauren meets NYC’s Mafia Prince, Mishca.

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Book One

Blurb:

Twenty-year-old Lauren Thompson left her small town in Michigan to begin a new life in the Big Apple where no one knows her name or the tragedy that had rocked her family fifteen years prior. With new friends and an intriguing new love interest, starting over is easier than she expected…but Mishca Volkov isn’t what he seems. As the son of a Russian Mob boss, he thrives in a world of chaos and fear, earning the title of Bratva Captain through blood and pain.

When the two cross paths, lines blur and passions ignite, bringing them closer than they could ever imagine. Until secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart. Can they fight past their demons…or were they doomed by fate before they ever met.

Something that I really like about this series is that it unfolds over several years without taking multiple time jumps by the author lazily writing “nine months later”. As fantastical as fiction can be, I still want it to be believable and a whirlwind happily ever-after-romance, that has a “solid foundation” of 4 days is as believable as the sun rising in the west and  setting in the east. Sure it is fun once in a while, but it gets old fast with the amount of romance that I read.

Mishca and Lauren’s tale is continued in the second and third books in the series.

Mishca and Lauren have time to grow as individuals and as a couple. The weight of their problems feels legitimate because they are not overcome in a weekend, but through weeks and months of effort. They continually choose each other, at times over things and people that use to have real meaning to them. Love is hard work. It requires that continual effort, dedication, and sacrifice,  and choosing each other again and again. It might become more familiar or comfortable, but it doesn’t get easier.

These books are awesome because it takes a fantastical experience (falling in love with a Mafia Prince) and humanizes it. The author takes you through the experiences of disapproving parents and conflicting morals merging into one unified sense of direction for a couple.

One of my favourite scenes is when Lauren allows Mishca  to tattoo his (thieves-in-law) stars on her shoulders, denoting his possession of her in his world. For Lauren, this is as serious – or more so – than a wedding band and something that she was reluctant to do for ages. This step symbolizes her acceptance of him, not just as a lover or friend, but in his entirety, and declares her dedication to him in a pretty public way.

There series end felt natural, although I was reluctant to let the characters go. Luckily, there is also a “post-script” novella written after The Final Hour.

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The fourth, and final, full novel in the Bratva series is about Aleksandra, Mishca ‘s sister, who is introduced early on in the series. I think of her novel as a bit of side-quel, because you see her developing through the first three books, but Aleksandra and her beau only have their moment in Hidden Monsters. As such, I will review it in a separate post in a few days.

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xx

Alexandr’s Cherished Submissive by Ann Mayburn – a review

Alexandr and Jessica’s story is a two part story-line within the Submissive’s Wish series; this is the first part so the couple doesn’t get their happily ever after yet, but the author doesn’t leave you with a cliffhanger either. Part II is due out in September 2015. Thankfully, not a long wait.

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Here is the cover blurb for this book:

7 years before books I & II

From the moment Alexandr Novikov met the young auburn haired woman bartending at her uncle’s pub in Ireland, he’d been fascinated by her delicate beauty and fiery spirit. Unfortunately, he is in no position to offer her the kind of safe, normal life she deserves so he attempts to put her from his mind for her own good. Something easier said then done when a deal is struck between the Novikov Bratva and the Irish Cleary Gang, an arrangement that includes Alex and his men being on twenty-four hour bodyguard duty with the object of his forbidden desires.

Jessica Venture came to Dublin to spend some time bonding with her birth mother’s family, a connection she desperately needs after losing her adoptive parents within a year of each other back in the States. The last thing she expected was to fall in love with a handsome, mysterious, and sometimes scary man who was well known for his sexual appetite, but rejected her attempts to seduce him.

There are outside forces that will do anything to keep them apart, and Jessica will have to make a desperate choice that will change their lives forever.

Warning: There is light bondage, domestic discipline, spanking, and an F/F scene that is a voyeuristic Doms delight.

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This is probably my favourite series at the moment, and has been for about a year. I was curious going in, because I knew that this book would be different from the others and I wasn’t sure how I would like that.

To start, ACS takes place several years before books 1 or 2, sort of like a prequel I suppose, and many of the life-changing, formational events that turn our beloved characters into the people they are haven’t happened yet. Plus, the reader is used to seeing them in a certain way and in a certain relationship so it is rather strange to see them with other woman. Thankfully though, I didn’t have any problems with the familiar characters and their undevelopment as it were.

Books 1 and 2 both feature female leads in their mid-twenties, several years older than Jessica’s 19, and their relationships are hot and heavy from the beginning. Alexandr’s Cherished Submissive is much more of a slow burn. Alex and Jessica are friends for months before they become intimate and their bedroom shannanigans feature much less dominance and submission than voyeurism and swinging, another departure from the other books in the series.

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, this whole series is definitely 18+ erotic 😉

Now voyeurism and swinging aren’t really my thing, I’m more of a straight D/s person, so I didn’t enjoy the sex scenes in this book as much as I did in others, but they were still      H-O-T HOT!  And the plot development was great.

Jessica is young and innocent and sweet. Although a lot of people in her life have died, her birth parents, adopted parents and their parents, she is still such a kind-hearted person who sort of floats through life doing good deeds. She isn’t a pushover in any way, but she has great compassion and occasionally shames her bodyguards for not being more helpful to perfect strangers. Jess has a heart of gold.

Alexandr is pretty much what I expected from the first two books. He loves Jessica with everything in him and is desperate to protect her from the consequences of his fathers’ increasingly erratic plots, and the numerous enemies of both his Bratva and Jessica’s Uncle’s.

My favourite aspect to Mayburn’s writing is her ability to create such multi-dimensional characters and worlds, and to create multiple interesting secondary characters with depth and backgrounds without detracting from the leads. It was a treat to revisit many characters already introduced, including Dmitri, Maks, Ivan, Petrov, Catrin, and Nico, while also meeting Krom and Oleg. I cannot wait until Krom gets his own book, probably book 5 in the series.

The only section that didn’t quite hit it with me, is when Jessica discovers that Alex is a mega criminal and flips. At the time, her bodyguards lock her in the house to keep her from taking off before Alexandr can return from out of country the next morning. You never see her really lose it on them for physically holding her captive essentially, nor does she have a moment of doubt about what else they might do to her for Alex. Although they had come to love and respect her by then, their loyalty is to Alex and the Novikov Bratva first, and I expected her to be rather displeased for a period.

Plus, she totally caves to Alex upon his return. Granted, he makes a big gesture to show her how much she means to him, but I still thought she let him off too easily for keeping this a secret from her for something like 18 months!

The conclusion to Alexandr and Jessica’s story arc is coming soon:

Book 4

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xx