Review: Taken by the Russian, by Alexa Riley

Taken by the RussianTaken by the Russian by Alexa Riley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve finally read my first Alexa Riley book! I know I’m pretty late to the game…but it was good. I give it a solid 3.5 stars. I’m still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it, so my rating might change in the future.

I always struggle with how to rate quick, smutty reads like this one. I can’t rate it against other full-length books, because that isn’t the type of story that this is. Instead, my rating is based upon other comparable, short, smutty reads — if that makes any sense.

The story is very short and progresses quickly. There wasn’t a lot of character development and things just seemed to kind of happen without much build-up. That being said, I was surprised with the amount of development that was there, given the small number of pages.

Anya is a young girl, on the brink of her eighteenth birthday, at the onset of the story. She has been sheltered for most of her life, but is headed off to college. Her long-time bodyguard, Sasha, is supposed to deliver her to school, but he has other plans.

Sasha has worked for Anya’s father for several years. In exchange for bringing his family to America, he agreed to serve as Anya’s bodyguard for an agreed upon number of years. During that time, one of his primary responsibilities was making sure that she remained pure and untouched. That task proved to be almost unbearable for Sasha, who has lusted after her for years. Taking her to college is his last assigned duty before his time is up.

The huge age difference between Anya and Sasha definitely adds to the taboo nature of this story. Add to that the fact that Sasha had been fantasizing about Anya for years, since the time she was middle-school aged, and it is enough to make you pretty damn uncomfortable. Of course, that is the appeal.

Needless to say, Anya and Sasha eventually cross the line and their relationship morphs into something entirely new…and dirty. I’m pretty drawn to taboo and forbidden stories, but this was pretty over-the-top. I enjoyed it, but it was the kind of smutty entertainment that I just can’t take too seriously. Some of it was incredibly hot. Other parts were kind of disturbing.

All in all, I thought that it was a pretty good, smutty read. I can definitely see what the appeal is, now that I’ve read my first Alexa Riley book. Usually, I prefer a lot more build-up and development in my stories, but this is a great choice if you’re looking for a quick, dirty and hot type of read. This is definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of story.

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Review: The Bandit (The Stolen Duet, #1), by B. B. Reid

The Bandit (The Stolen Duet, #1)The Bandit by B.B. Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Bandit’ has been sitting on my TBR list for quite some time now. At last, I got around to reading it. It didn’t disappoint. This was one steamy read with plenty of push and pull between the main characters.

The heroine, Mian Ross, has known a lot of tragedy in her young life. She’s survived the death of her mother, only to be orphaned when her father is incarcerated for murder. To make matters worse, the man that her father killed was her father’s best friend and like a second father to her. His murder left Mian completely isolated from anyone that had ever cared about her.

With no other options, Mian is taken from the home where she had spent her adolescence being taken care of by the son of her father’s victim. She is sent to live with a distant aunt and uncle, that could care less about her welfare. This is made very clear when they throw her out after she becomes pregnant as a teenager, following another tragic event.

After losing her latest job waiting tables, Mian is desperate. She will do anything to keep her young baby fed, even if it means risking her own life. She decides to burglarize Angeles Knight, aka “Angel”, the boy that raised her. Only, Angel is no longer a boy. He has grown into a very dangerous man and has stepped up to take his father’s place at the head of his family’s criminal enterprise.

When Mian is caught stealing from Angel, he returns the favor. He spent his youth lusting after the forbidden, and much younger, Mian. Now, he finally has her where he wants her. He knows that she will do anything for her infant son. Angel takes her son and Mian plays right into his hand, just like he knew that she would.

What follows is a dark-ish story, with a lot of push and pull between the two main characters. Angel’s two best friends also play a crucial role in this book, as Angel shares a lot with his friends. Angel has to balance his desire for revenge with his lust for Mian. The result was a deliciously steamy and angsty read.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this story quite a bit, it wasn’t without problems. Mainly, the editing was horrendous. I mean, REALLY BAD. I was pretty surprised by that, since this book has been out for a long time and is pretty popular. Incorrect words and misspellings were frequent, as were elementary grammatical errors. For example, using the word “then” when it should have been “than”, etc.

Overall, I give this one 3.5 stars. It was still pretty good, but the editing needs some serious work. The number of mistakes was very distracting and did take away from the story. If you’re a stickler for editing, this one will drive you insane. If you can overlook some serious grammatical issues, then you might consider giving this one a try. I am still curious about where their story is headed, so I’ll be reading the next book immediately.

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Review: Hundreds (Dollar, #3), by Pepper Winters

Hundreds (Dollar, #3)Hundreds by Pepper Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you follow my reviews, you know that I love dark, twisted romance. So, it should come as no big surprise that I’m a big fan of Pepper Winters. She has a way of drawing me in and doing dirty, dirty things to my mind. This series is no exception.

The third book in the series, ‘Hundreds’ shows more character development and evolution than previous books. Pim really begins to come out of her shell, pushing her boundaries and defying Alrik’s conditioning. Elder also reveals a more personal side, finally sharing details about his past and opening up to Pim.

Aside from their personal growth, ‘Hundreds’ also spotlighted the evolution of Pim and Elder’s relationship. From the guilt and hurt that the last book left off with, they grew stronger. In fact, their biggest challenge was how strong their attraction was this time around. It seems that once Pim comes to realize that she wants Elder as much as he wants her, the tables turn.

While most of the book focused on Elder and Pim’s relationship, Elder’s past also plays an important role. His secrets are finally brought to light. The consequences of his past actions come back to haunt him. He is a hunted man.

In addition to the people from his past that want revenge for the perceived wrongs of Elder, Elder is also fighting his inner demons. He knows that every moment he spends with Pim increases the risk of danger to her. He wants to protect her from those that would harm her — most importantly, himself.

Like earlier books in the series, ‘Hundreds’ ends with quite an upset. Ms. Winters really knows how to keep you anxiously awaiting the next book. Of course, I’ve already pre-ordered the next one because I know I won’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary to see what she has in store for Pim and Elder.

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Review: Dominic (Benedetti Brothers, #2), by Natasha Knight

Dominic (Benedetti Brothers, #2)Dominic by Natasha Knight
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a tough review for me to write. I find myself a little torn over how to rate this book. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

On the one hand, ‘Dominic’ had many elements that would usually be an instant hit with me. It featured a morally bankrupt anti-hero that does some terrible things to the heroine. I love dark reads, so the twisted storyline was right up my alley. Also, the author didn’t shy away from writing dark, controversial content, which is also a big plus for me.

However, the flip side is that I never really “connected” to Dominic or Gia. Even though this story had all the dark elements that would usually be a formula for success for me, I just didn’t feel it. I don’t know if this was a result of poor execution, or if it is just a result of reading this book immediately after reading another phenomenal dark story. I think it is the latter. While this book might have been a 4-star/”good” read for me any other time, following a 5-star/”phenomenal” dark read it ended up paling in comparison. So as you read my review, please keep that in mind.

If you’ve read ‘Salvatore’, the first book in the ‘Benedetti Brothers’ series, you might recall that Dominic was Salvatore’s [disturbed] brother. This book takes quite some time after ‘Salvatore’ and Dominic has been out of touch with his “family”. While Salvatore has left the Mafia behind to pursue a normal family life, Dominic has only begun to work from the periphery, doing the most despicable work for crime bosses.

Dominic is definitely not a nice guy. He makes no qualms about the fact that he does horrible things. On some level, he acknowledges that what he is doing is wrong and that he is even ashamed of how far down he’s let himself fall. Regardless, he isn’t bothered enough by his conscience to stop doing what he’s doing….and what he’s doing is breaking girls and training them for lives as sex slaves.

Gia is given to Dominic to be broken and trained. She immediately piqued his interest because he was told that he could not have sex with her. She also had been branded, which was uncommon.

From the start, Dominic was very aware that Gia wasn’t like most of the other girls he was sent to train. It was clear that she wasn’t some random girl stolen from the street that wouldn’t be missed. She was taken for a specific purpose. Maybe she made a boyfriend angry. Maybe it was revenge. Dominic told himself that he didn’t care, until he began to realize that Gia might be tied to his past and the family that he had left behind.

As Gia’s identity comes to light, Dominic’s conflicting loyalties make for some surprising twists and turns. Gia’s past is more intertwined with his than she knows. From captor to savior, she can’t seem to escape him.

This story is dark and has plenty of danger. It is a Mafia love story that is full of betrayal and seedy underworld dealings. All of this would usually add up to an instant hit for me.

Unfortunately, ‘Dominic’ fell flat for me. I found myself feeling disconnected from the story and the characters. I listened to the Audible version and while the narration wasn’t necessarily bad, the story failed to hold my attention. I found myself zoning out frequently.

As I mentioned above, this could be because I was still in the midst of a bad book hangover after finishing another fabulous dark story and ‘Dominic’ just couldn’t compare. Regardless of the cause, ‘Dominic’ ended up just being an “okay” kind of story for me. I didn’t hate it or love it, because in the end I just didn’t care.

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 3, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 3Killing The Sun: Part 3 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third, and final, installment of the ‘Killing The Sun’ series, the tension between Danny and Aimee is at an all-time high. Aimee is finally ready to stand up to Danny, even as she still yearns for his love on some level. With Aimee slipping away, Danny is at his most brutal.

For the first time while reading this series, I really feared what Danny might do to Aimee. He was always violent and controlling, but I never got the sense that he wanted to truly harm Aimee before. Now, there is no telling what he might do to her. He might even want her dead.

As Danny is brought to justice for his criminal activities, Aimee’s secrets also come to light. In fact, she proved to be more duplicitous than Danny, in my opinion. It was like there was this whole other person that I was blind to before. Part of me felt betrayed by her, while another part felt proud that she had it in her.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that this series took me by surprise. It was a whirlwind of steamy sex and betrayals. And that ending! I am dying to know what happens next. I would kill for an epilogue or another book. I imagine a dark romance with Danny and Aimee living out the HEA together…but I always root for the anti-hero. Damn these two twisted geniuses!

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 1, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 1Killing The Sun: Part 1 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Killing the Sun’ is a collaborative work by Mara White and K. Larsen. Before now, I’d never read anything by Ms. White, although I have enjoyed many of Ms. Larsen’s works. I will definitely be looking for more of Ms. White’s work in the future.

In ‘Killing the Sun: Part 1’ we meet Aimee Olsen, a young twenty-something that has returned to New York City from San Francisco, deciding to return to her boyfriend of over six years, Danny. Why did she ever leave? Well, here’s the kicker — He’s married! Yes, Aimee’s pampering boyfriend of SIX YEARS was married the entire time that they were together. Poor Aimee was absolutely clueless. Yet, despite her righteous fury, she has decided that she can’t be without him and she’s moving back to Danny.

Jumping back and forth between past and present, the history of Aimee and Danny comes to light. Aimee was a young lady that was trying to run as far from her small-town upbringing as possible. She had recently arrived in New York City when she met Daniel Montclair, aka Danilo Bartolini. She was young, beautiful and uneducated. She came across as incredibly naive, but hopeful.

Danny embodies all of the characteristics that Aimee does not. He is dark and dangerous. Danny grew up in the city and climbed his way to the top, fighting for everything he has. He is no stranger to violence or criminal activity. When he meets Aimee, he cannot deny the pull to her wholesome goodness. She is his “Sunshine” and after one night together, he has no intention of letting her go.

Little by little, Danny and Aimee’s past is unveiled. Initially, I was rolling my eyes at Aimee’s stupidity. The saying, “Fool me once…” was running through my mind. However, I came to see how Aimee got sucked into Danny’s orbit. I also grew to believe that Danny’s love for Aimee was genuine, despite the fact that he was married to another woman.

While I can’t say that I agree with Aimee’s choices, I did come to understand her motivations. It was easy to see how she was taken by Danny and his protective persona. Even as Danny’s behavior grew increasingly controlling and violent, leaving me wanting to shake Aimee and tell her to “get out”, I could not pull myself away. I was absolutely hooked on their story.

The story is told in three serials, each of which had me glued to my Kindle. While many readers struggle with serials and novellas, preferring to read only full-length books, I love a great serial now and again. Sometimes, a quick read between larger, full-length novels, is just what I need.

That being said, my biggest complaint about the ‘Killing the Sun’ series is that I think that it would have read better as one full-length book vs. three serials. There was no logical “break” in the story or big climactic event that served as a dividing point between each serial. It is almost like the author(s) just decided to end each serial when they hit a certain page number or date, without any regard for what was going on in the story. This was especially noticeable at the “end” of Part 1. I was just reading along and then I flip a page and out of nowhere it says that I’ve got to buy book 2 to continue. It was abrupt and left me scratching my head.

Of course, the story was so good that I immediately went out and bought the second part. So, while I may not have cared for the serial format, I did enjoy this story quite a bit. I wouldn’t let it deter you from reading this story, just be forewarned that you may want to consider buying the compilation of all three at once vs. each serial individually.

This story also has many “dark” elements, as well as cheating. If those are touchy subjects for you, then I’d steer clear of this one. Danny and Aimee’s relationship becomes increasingly controlling and abusive as he feels her slipping away from him.

For me, this was a fantastic dark read. I loved every minute of their story. I jumped right into Part 2 as soon as I finished this one. If you’re a fan of darker stories, then this one is a great choice!

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Review: Blaire (Blaire, #1), by Anita Gray

BlaireBlaire by Anita Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read the blurb for ‘Blaire’, I was intrigued. I love nothing like a deliciously dark story that pushes my boundaries and makes me wriggle in nervous anticipation of what will come with the next turn of the page. Luckily for me, ‘Blaire’ did not disappoint. This book held my attention from start to finish.

Blaire was taken at a young age and subjected to horrific abuse. She was brainwashed and conditioned, both physically and mentally, to be the a slave for Maksim. Over time, she became his fiercest protector and most treasured possession. Despite her petite frame, she is more lethal than men twice her size.

When a rival crime boss, Charlie, enters the scene, it is clear that he is different. He doesn’t fear Maksim the way that others do. In fact, Maksim seems to be afraid of this newcomer. Their actions hint at a complicated history and it seems that Maksim may have betrayed Charlie in the past.

As repayment for past transgressions, Charlie asks to borrow Blaire from Maksim. He is in need of her expert hacking skills for a job that he has planned. Although, his keen interest in Blaire makes it clear that he is interested in far more than her computer skills.

To Blaire’s astonishment, Maksim agrees to Charile’s terms. Before she can voice her protest, she is drugged and taken to be Charlie’s captive. Soon, she is forced to feel things that she’s never experienced before and everything she knows is called into question.

Little by little, Blaire and Charlie’s relationship evolves into something entirely new to Blaire. Charlie treats her with kindness, which she had never experienced before. She battles between the feelings that she has and those that her conditioning tell her that she should have. She is beginning to fall for Charlie, but knows that this is the ultimate betrayal of Maksim, the man she has been groomed to protect and cherish.

Eventually, Blaire and Charlie must face the light. Blaire’s time with Charlie comes to an end. Betrayals and their consequences come to pass. Things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

Reading Blaire’s story, I found myself enjoying this atypical captivity story quite a bit. Blaire wasn’t weak or even innocent, by any stretch of the imagination. She was a conditioned, hardened killer. Yet, she was vulnerable at the same time.

If dark stories with abuse do not appeal to you, then this is one that you’ll want to steer clear of. There are graphic accounts of sexual, physical and mental abuse in this book. Heed the warning in the book’s disclaimer.

If you enjoy dark stories, like I do, then ‘Blaire’ might prove to be just the book that you’re looking for. It is different from the plethora of other captivity-themed books out there. I enjoyed it quite a lot and will be reading the next book in the series when it is released.

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Review: Riot (Scarred Souls, #4), by Tillie Cole

Riot (Scarred Souls, #4)Riot by Tillie Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***I was provided an ARC of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley.com, in exchange for honest feedback.***

I love this series! Each one of the books in this series has grabbed my attention and left me craving more. I just cannot get enough of these tortured fighters and the women that tame them. It may sound ridiculous – and logically, it kind of is – but it just works so damn well.

There is something about the over-the-top, Alpha-male heroes in this series that appeals to me on a very primal level. In fact, much of the dialogue would be laughable in any other book, but Tillie Cole pulls it off flawlessly. The heroes are similar to those from Kresley Cole’s ‘Immortals After Dark’ series, in their overwhelming need to answer to their baser needs. Phrases like “my female” and other possessive, rudimentary speech patterns fill the pages, but it manages to be incredibly H-O-T.

In this fourth, and final (?), book, we meet “901”. He’s the Blood Pit’s undefeated champion fighter and he’s proved to be a challenge to Master Arziani, the head of the Arziani Georgian crime mob. It is clear that 901 fears nothing, including Master Arziani. This presents a tremendous problem for the crime boss, who needs to reign in his champion.

When Master Arziani shows off his new favorite pleasure slave, “152”, he finally finds the leverage he’s been searching for. Despite his attempts to hide his interest, 901 is taken aback by 152’s beauty. He’s never wanted for anything as much as he wants her.

The two are thrown together, as Master Arziani uses 152 as a tool to break 901. No matter how hard 901 fights his attraction, he ultimately must cede control in this regard. Master Arziani has finally found a way to control 901.

Meanwhile, Valentin is determined to rescue his sister, 152, from the life of slavery that he was able to escape. Along with Luka and Zaal, he plots to bring down Master Arziani once and for all. Their plans are daring and they know that they will either succeed or die trying.

From start to finish, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. The plight of 152 and 901 was desperate and heartbreaking at times. Arziani was sadistic and seriously unhinged, so I never knew what to expect from him.

Unlike earlier books in the series, which followed a predictable pattern of the hero’s escape/rescue from slavery and gradual acclimation to “normal” life on the outside, aided by the heroine, this book saves the rescue for last. In contrast to earlier books, this book is primarily set during the time of captivity. 901 and 152 are both slaves when they meet and fall in love. Only later, are they rescued.

This book was fantastic. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it and could not put it down. Old and new characters come together and everything comes full-circle. We finally get the HEA that these characters deserve. I can only hope that there will be a spin-off series in the future. I loved it!

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Review: Bound by Temptation (Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles, #4), by Cora Reilly

Bound by Temptation (Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles, #4)Bound by Temptation by Cora Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth book in the ‘Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles’ series, ‘Bound in Temptation’ is the story of Liliana and Romero. If you’ve read the books in this series in order, you probably remember Lily as Aria and Gianna’s younger sister. You probably also remember the crush that she’s always had on Romero, the older soldier that is Aria’s bodyguard and one of Luca’s most trusted men.

Liliana is growing up and is no longer the child that Romero remembers. Despite his best attempts, he can no longer ignore the beautiful young lady that she has become. She hasn’t grown out of her infatuation with Romero over the years, she’s only become more determined to have him.

Initially, there is a lot of push and pull between Lily and Romero. She keeps coming on to him. He keeps turning her down, while he secretly fantasizes about what it would be like to have her.

Romero does his best to stay loyal to The Family. He’s never wanted anything other than being a loyal soldier, until Lily. Now, he’s forced to betray his heart or betray his vows. I think you can guess what he’ll choose. He is only a man, after all.

I love a forbidden love story, so this one was right up my alley. Add in a dangerous guy with serious bad-boy appeal and I’m hooked! It’s no wonder that I loved Lily and Romero’s story.

While I don’t want to give too much away, I will say that Lily surprised me with her strength. As the youngest sister, she was always portrayed as the silly little girl that was left out of the grown-up conversations before. She definitely came into her own in this book. Honestly, she was kind of a little bad-ass.

Similarly, I really came to appreciate Gianna in this book. While Aria seemed more submissive and happy to be the good little wife to Luca, Gianna wasn’t afraid to stir things up on behalf of her little sister. I absolutely loved Gianna in this book!

Despite the fact that the story was predictable and like many other mafia romances out there, I didn’t care. If it works, it works. This book worked for me. I enjoyed every minute and I don’t feel guilty for it.

The only downside to this story was that there was a large amount of grammatical errors. Incorrect word usage, misspellings and other elementary grammar oversights were pretty common. It was a bit distracting at times. For such a popular series and author, I’d expect the editing to be much better.

Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It was predictable, but entertaining. I was left feeling happy and contented. With war on the horizon for the New York and Chicago organizations, I’m curious to see where the next book in the series will lead.

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Review: Empires and Kings (A Mafia Series, #1), by A. C. Bextor

Empires and Kings (A Mafia Series Book 1)Empires and Kings by A.C. Bextor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like Mafia-themed romances, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. It was one of the recommendations that popped up when browsing Kindle Unlimited, based upon my Amazon purchase history. In the past, I’ve not had much luck with the computer-generated “recommendations”. However, this time the computer finally got it right!

‘Empires and Kings’ is the first book in A. C. Bextor’s ‘A Mafia Series’. Right from the start, I was captivated by this story. The circumstances of these characters’ lives was brutal and tragic. This is certainly a romanticized account of organized crime, yet the author doesn’t entirely shy away from some of the hard truths.

As a young Vlad Zalesky rises through the ranks of his father’s criminal empire, he is forced to become a man of violence. The night that he kills tortures and orders his first kill, he can no longer hide from the darkness that lives within him. When he comes face to face with the young daughter of the traitor, he is forced to see himself through her innocent eyes.

Nonetheless, Vlad must stay the course. To send a message to any others that might dare to cross him or his organization, he decides to keep the girl. The traitor dies thinking that his daughter will be forced to spend her life working in one of the organizations’ many houses of prostitution.

Klara has lived with Vlad since that horrible night, when she stumbled upon the murder of her father as a young girl. Despite the fact that her father was a traitor, Vlad has allowed Klara to grow up in his mansion and have a privileged life. She is more like part of the family than a prisoner, babied by Vlad’s sister and a sort of sister to his son.

For the most part, Vlad has ignored the girl living under his roof. Of course, now that she is growing into a young woman he is having a harder time dismissing the beautiful Klara. He wants her badly, but doesn’t want to steal the last bit of innocence that she possesses.

Eventually, Vlad and Klara cross that line and their relationship changes. No surprise there. After all, if they didn’t find there way to each other there wouldn’t be much of a romance here.

Along the way, there is plenty of angst and drama. Vlad is a complete Alpha-male a**hole and I loved him for it. (I’m sick like that.) He does plenty of infuriating things along the way that will have you wanting to strangle him.

Klara is the stereotypical innocent virgin. Know that going into this story. If that trope irritates you, then you will be seriously peeved with this book. I happen to love it, as cliché as it may be. So this story worked for me.

There are plenty of disturbing scenarios presented as well. I read a lot of dark stories and didn’t find anything to be too graphic, but I have a high tolerance for dark content. If you are easily “triggered”, then I’d steer clear of this one.

I enjoyed the many layers that were presented in this book. The characters were complex and intriguing. I found myself completely absorbed in this story from start to finish.

My only complaint is that there were a few times when I thought the author tried to venture into “dark” territory, only to chicken out. That is a big peeve of mine. I think if an author is going to write a dark story they should embrace the dark side and not be afraid to take it all the way.

One scene, in particular, had the potential to be a really pivotal dark scene, but it ended up being underwhelming. The author did a spectacular job of building suspense and pulling emotions from readers, only to not carry out the scene, having Vlad fail to carry through with the threatened action against Klara. After waiting for what was bound to be an emotional and traumatic event, I was left feeling a little ripped off. Then, it was hard for me to buy all of the coldness and turmoil that followed when Vlad didn’t even do what he set out to do.

Overall, this was a great read for me. I will definitely be reading the next book in the series when it is released. There were a few things that I would’ve changed, but I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. If you like stories that have a little dark content, or if Mafia books are your thing, then you won’t be disappointed with this one.

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