Friday, September 18, 2015

Some Secrets Are Better Left Kept

"It's important to believe in something bigger than yourself."
--Jennifer Laam, Secret Daughter of the Tsar

Genre: Adult Contemporary, Historical Fiction. Alternative History
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 344
Publication Date: October 22nd, 2013
Source: Gifted to me by the lovely Erin Lindsay McCabe
Previous Books in Series: Standalone

Goodreads Description

A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter—smuggled out of Russia before the revolution—continues the royal lineage to dramatic consequences

In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov’s treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer’s interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica's passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion.
The Settings
This book takes place across three time periods and three different settings. Tsarist Russia, Occupied Paris, and present-day Los Angeles. This was the best part of the book for me. I loved being immersed in this history and taking a secret look into the lives of the Romanovs. Having read a non-fiction book about Nicholas and Alexandra, I was pleasantly surprised to have the focus be on the positive attributes of Alexandra. The look we get in the Winter Palace, the streets of Paris, and the heat of Los Angeles was what kept this book going for me, as well as the subsequen history at the time. The ominous feeling of knowing the fates of the Romanovs years before tragedy happened is a perverse fascination for me and thus why I read historical fiction.
The Characters
I liked the characters, I didn't not like them but they were forgettable. I really love when books have multiple story lines especially over different time periods but this book is not a great example of that. The characterizations felt superficial, watered down, and rushed. I felt zero emotional connection to any of the three women featured and I really wanted to. I feel like if this was about a 600 page book with more build-up and description, this story would have really soared. But with the constraints of only being a 344 page book, we basically got a novella of each story...which sucks because the idea is really fantastic.

The Pacing
Along with my thoughts about the characters above, the pacing ties into this as well. When I'm not invested I kept falling out of the story. The first 100 pages flew by and I was excited to read but then I kept getting distracted while reading. Not wanting to keep going, and by the end of the book I just wanted to be done. I felt the romance aspect of the present-day story was insta-love rushed and it just didn't feel organic to the story.
Standing in Line Outside
If you love Tsarist Russia, superficial characterization, and rushed plots...this book's for you.


  1. Oh boo! The instant I saw you mention the Romanovs, my interest was piqued. But I'm not too sure if I want to try it after seeing your thoughts; I do prefer to have stronger connections with my characters whenever I read anything. But I'm glad that the setting made up for it for you!

  2. Oh man! I totally fell in cover-lust with this book and added it to my TBR. And then I read your review. Haha. I love multi-POVs and storylines, but if they don't work out, then that's a huge problem. And it's so hard to be invested in a story when you feel no emotional ties to the characters. But I'm glad you liked the setting and the added richness of history. This doesn't sound like a winner, but might still try it one day, even if I don't know much about the Romanovs.


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