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REVIEW:  The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

REVIEW: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

romanov-sisters

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 Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections.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

Dear Ms. Rappaport,

My introduction to the Romanovs began many years ago when I read Robert K Massie’s “Nicholas and Alexandra.’ While it’s a very good book for its time, one glaring defect for me was always the fact that the lives of the four Grand Duchesses were covered in only one chapter titled OTMA. The sisters themselves used the term but, as you mention in your book, it mainly served to turn them into an faceless mass, indistinguishable from each other. When I saw the title of your book I thought, ‘aha, now maybe I can learn more about each sister as an individual.”

From the opening, the book is so full of signs, SIGNS I tell you! of what was to lead to what was to come. Or what certainly helped grease things along. Reading it is like watching one of those old 1970s disaster films – Airport, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake or The Poseidon Adventure. We get the introduction of the cast of characters, the setting of the disaster and slow build up to The Event – whatever that might be, followed by the fallout from the catastrophe. Here it’s the Romanov family, in a Russia poised for social upheaval, which lead to the Revolution and then to their deaths.

Since we already know the family is doomed, it’s easy to pick out the people and events in their lives and the world stage that got them to Ekaterinburg. All of this must obviously be covered as it was such an integral part of what happened to the sisters but what about them before the end? What made them tick? How were they different? This is what I really wanted to know.

The book comes through for me. It’s obvious that considerable time and effort was expended in tracking down – and in many cases translating – original source material. Their parents wrote much about them in letters and diaries. Since the sisters were celebrities in their day there a plethora of foreign coverage of their lives. And as they were prodigious letter writers, their own experiences, thoughts and hopes were captured and preserved in the moment, much like objects in amber.

Far from being the stairstep princesses in often matching tulle covered picture hats of the day, the sisters were vastly different young women. Sometimes solemn, serene, imperial, impish, boy crazy or downright mean, the girls were individuals from the beginning and just starting to show the women they could have become given different circumstances. I was surprised at how extremely naïve they were but given the degree to which their parents sheltered them, and how they still called them “girlies” until Olga was near twenty, I suppose I shouldn’t be.

One thing that does come through, crystal clear, is their devotion to each other, to their parents and to their brother who, unfortunately, due to the Russian peoples’ and his parent’s hopes for an heir, seemed to push the four sisters into the background and blur their individual personalities.

Reasons are given for not including information about the actual execution and the disposal of the bodies. I realize that you’d already covered it in another book but by merely mentioning that it makes it seem as if you’re trying to sell the reader that book to get the complete story.

I did enjoy getting to know Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia much better than I did when I began the book. Each sister is now a bit clearer and more fixed in my mind. Yes, I know that if they had lived, they would probably have been relegated to nothing more than footnotes of the era (after all, who remembers much of Princess Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France?) but since that isn’t what happened and many still want to know more about them, this is a good starting point to do so. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Professional by Kresley Cole

REVIEW: The Professional by Kresley Cole

The-Professional

Dear Ms. Cole:

To be honest, I stopped reading your Immortals After Dark series a while ago. And for the life of me, I’m not sure why, when your writing works quite well for me. I was intrigued by The Professional when it first came out as a three part serial, but I absolutely, positively do NOT do serial novels (I have instant gratification issues), so I passed on it. But I was glad to see it released as a complete novel, and spent about four hours happily devouring Sevastyan and Natalie’s story.

Natalie Porter is a Masters candidate in Nebraska working three jobs to make ends meet. She’s adopted and has always wondered about her birth parents. So much so that she hired a PI to go to Russia, where she was adopted from an orphanage to see if she could discover anything about those who conceived her. She’s heard nothing at all from the PI despite repeated attempts to get a hold of him. In the meantime, she’s out with friends, who are marveling at her ability to “manalyze” or instantly size up any man/college boy on sight and generally be quite accurate about it. But when she catches sight of a real man, a specimen, in fact, walking into the bar, she drunkenly decides she needs to try to pick him up. She’s been ruing her long held virginity, and she’s decided he’s The One. But when she approaches him, he puts her off immediately, humiliating her. She goes home with her tail tucked between her legs.

Imagine her shock when he interrupts her very enjoyable bath (she was fantasizing about being with him) to tell her to pack her bags. Her birth father is very much alive and in Russia, and in fact, a vor v zakone, a mafiya lord. Her existence might very well have become known to his enemies and she must go directly to him so he can protect her. Natalie is incredulous. First, she’s not stupid, despite her attraction to this man, she has absolutely no intention of going anywhere with him. She doesn’t even know his name. His name is Aleksandr Sevastyan, he is her father’s enforcer, and she most certainly WILL be going with him. By force, or of her own free will, she’ll be getting on a plane and flying to Russia that very night.

Next thing Natalie knows, she’s on a plane with this man who is compelling in the extreme. He’s also determined to resist her at all costs. Despite his work for the mafiya, he has a strong sense of honor and has told her father that she will be delivered to Russia unmolested. Sadly for Sevastyan, Natalie has a different idea and sets about seducing him. While they don’t have sex, they have some serious touching going on, where Sevastyan demonstrates that he is a Dominant. Despite technically being a virgin, Natalie has been with other men, and done a lot of self-exploration. She feels like she’s pretty much prepared for anything Sevastyan would like to throw at her.

Soon she’s in Russia, and has met her father, who, yes, is a mafiya vor, but is also incredibly kind to her, and generous with his love and affection. He thinks of Sevastyan as a son and would like for them to be together, but warns Natalie that Sevastyan has some very dark corners that he’ll probably never share with her. Despite that, Natalie can’t help but continue her attraction to Sevastyan. But he runs very hot and cold with her. Either he can’t keep his hands off of her, or he’s shutting her out completely. After her father is unexpectedly killed, Sevastyan spirits her to Paris to an opulent home where he can better protect her. Natalie feels like a caged bird. By this time, she and Sevastyan are engaging in a full fledged affair, but he tells her nothing and won’t let her leave the house. She’s a caged bird. As her frustration mounts, she considers leaving him. But as Sevastyan’s secrets are exposed, will Natalie be able to accept the dark things this man has and will do? Or will she flee from him?

I liked Natalie immediately. She’s smart, inquisitive and never strays into the TSTL zone. I liked that despite her unwanted virginity, she’s sexually aware, and daring. She’s a natural submissive, but doesn’t know it until she and Sevastyan begin their sexual journey. I also liked that she was a smart ass. She teases Sevastyan and frustrates him over and over by pushing back. She doesn’t just sit in the corner like a good little girl. She’s endlessly pushing for them to build closeness. She wants that relationship with him. It’s due to his horrifying past, Sevastyan is unwilling to talk about his past.

I was less sold in the beginning on Sevastyan. I think because this book is first person, and we discover Sevastyan’s past along-side of Natalie, I struggled to connect with him. He definitely was hot for her, and wanted her all the time. But he also was closed off and distant. I think it’s probably a credit to your writing ability that I found that as frustrating as Natalie. I literally knew nothing about him that she didn’t. So it wasn’t until the last half of the book that I began to connect more clearly to him.

I loved the Russian setting. You did a great job of evoking place and Sevastyan’s nationality by including more than just the occasional endearment. I’m looking forward to more in the series, if they’re all set in Russia. It felt slightly exotic to me, which I really liked.

The sex scenes are plentiful and incredibly hot. I recalled from the Immortals After Dark series that you wrote some very sexy love scenes, but these are so much hotter than what I’ve read from you before. Sevastyan is a Dominant, and he pushes Natalie into sub-space on more than one occasion. What I liked was his reluctance to engage in D/s behavior with Natalie, despite the fact that she really wanted it. And I loved how Natalie finally pushed him into it and convinced him that she could take what he wanted to dole out.

Overall, I found this to be a really engaging book, one that I quite unexpectedly enjoyed so much more than I thought I would. I’m really looking forward to the next installment in the series. I would highly recommend The Professional for readers of D/s books and for those who love a strong heroine paired with an anti-hero. Final grade: B.

Kind regards,

Kati

 

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