If you haven't guessed already, stories about assassins or hitmen are taking the romance world by storm. The good news is, Last Hit by the dynamic collaborative team Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick is at the top of the leader board. You want sexy? Check. You want edgy? Double check. There are so many more "it" factors this story has which I will be getting to momentarily. I like to think of Last Hit as a cross between HITMAN the movie (starring the sexy-as-ever Timothy Olyphant) and Roxie Rivera's My Russian Protector series. Since I am a fan of her work, I became a little worried when I noticed many of the character names in Last Hit matched those in Rivera's My Russian Protector series, such as Nikolai, Sergei, Yury, Vasily. Thankfully, the stories are extremely different and I've read and learned enough to know that these names are quite common in the Russian/Ukrainian world.
I first want to talk about the very distinct dual perspectives and voices of Nikolai and Daisy, in particular Nick's accent. It's been a long time since I've been reminded as to why this technique works so well. I've read stories with alternating character POV that have left me confused or worst of all, having to go back a few pages to figure out who's head I'm supposed to be in (even with the help of character names at the beginning of chapters or section breaks). Last Hit does not suffer this fate. Nikolai's Ukrainian accent was AMAZING. I don't know how Frederick was able to translate his accent on paper, but I swear, I could almost hear it through the pages. I've been reading romance novels since I was 12, everything from historical to paranormal, with characters from all over the world and in different dimensions. Most authors take the easy way out when writing characters with foreign accents, often telling the reader that the character has one but doesn't go about showing it in any way (especially in the dialogue where it would be most prevalent). Showing Nikolai's accent through his narration, dialogue, and even text messages to Daisy made him feel almost 3-Dimensional.
I also liked the ages of the characters. I know, sounds strange, but I was shocked when I read a few negative reviews complaining about Daisy and Nikolai's ages. Some felt that by keeping the characters in the 18-25 year bracket, it was an easy way for Clare and Frederick to market Last Hit as a NA romance. Hmm, not sure about that, nor do I care. However, what really bothered me were those who found Nikolai being a 24/25 year old world-renowned hitman unrealistic. They felt there was no way a person that young could have that kind of skill set. I obviously disagree. We are not talking about some random guy in his 20's taking up a gun and running around the country shooting people. Nikolai was targeted, trained, and desensitized at a very young age by the Petrovich Bratva, one of the most dangerous and powerful criminal organizations in the world. At the age of 15, he was kicked out by his mentor, Alexsandr:
"...Alexsandr dismissed me from the ranks and sent me off on my own. At fifteen, all I knew how to do was kill. And so that is what I do. I am a man who kills for money."
So let's put this into perspective. How is Nikolai and his upbringing any different from the children in Uganda that are taken from their homes by force at the tender ages of 6, 7, and 8 years old and trained with guns to be killers? Just because an idea or topic may be foreign to you doesn't mean there is no truth to it. There are so many unbelievable acts of evil and violence going on in the world that most of us are oblivious to and maybe that's the problem. Some people rather live in a bubble then admit that these kinds of things are happening everyday. I choose to live with my eyes wide open and that's how I know Nikolai being an experienced hitman at 24 is possible.
Anyway, Daisy being 21 makes sense as well. Any younger or older may not have worked in her particular circumstances. When she finally decided it was time for her to make her escape, waiting until she was 21 gave her an advantage. If her father tried to get the police involved to bring her back, he would have no leg to stand on because in the eyes of the law, she was legally an adult. If Daisy had been older, say 25-26, I don't think her story would have been as believable. At that point, what would be holding her back? Nikolai and Daisy compliment each other exceptionally. They are two young people that in many ways are outsiders, don't quite know the social norms for their age group, and have lived and survived through their own personal kind of hell but refuse to allow their pasts to define them. They truly are two halves of a whole.
Last Hit is remarkably well written and had me going through a multitude of emotions. There are parts that are funny, such as Nikolai not quite understanding American slang or figures of speech which causes him to say things awkwardly:
"'Daniel,'" I answer. "'What is happening?'"
Daniel coughs into the phone, as if he is covering a laugh. I wonder what mistake I have made.
"'It's what's happening. You're too formal." --Nikolai
"I'd rub my body over hers so that she smelled of me. When she walked this city, other men would stay away, recognizing she was marked as my own. Belonging to Nikolai. Maybe I would tattoo it around her neck like a collar." --Nikolai
And parts that are thought provoking, sad, and heart wrenching:
"There is something so vibrant, so aware, so alive about him that it sings to me. I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Is it because my father has always been a shadow of himself and because he did his best to break me? Nick, I think, would never be broken. I like this about him." --Daisy
"This girl in Room 224 is unprotected, but she is innocent and sweet. I envy her. When she first walked into her apartment, she did not notice the cracked and peeling paint, the cheapness of the mattress on the floor...it all looked wonderful to her. I wonder what she would think of me--I am not unlike her apartment. I am cracked and peeling inside." --Nikolai
"When I killed, I targeted those who were the dregs and vermin of the world. Someday someone would take me out, and no one would mourn. But if Daisy was killed? Some light in the world would have been snuffed out. I want a piece of that light for myself, even if just for a short time. I know I do not deserve it--nor will I be able to keep it." --Nikolai
What also made this story feel fresh and gave it a sense of unpredictability was the pacing and deviation from the normal formula. Again, I thought I had everything figured out because at the 200 page mark, there were no resolutions in sight and Nikolai and Daisy hadn't done the deed yet, although there was some really hot sexy time along the way that kept my attention riveted to the screen of my kindle. The way the story was going, I was almost positive the sequel, Last Breath, was going to be a continuation of Daisy and Nick's story. Thank the gods I didn't bet any money because as that thought entered my mind, I decided to read the book blurb for Last Breath...and was shocked to learn it would be Daniel and Regan's story. That's when I started to sweat. How were Clare and Frederick going to wrap things up and add in all the hot lovin' Daisy and Nikolai deserved in 60 pages without making it feel rushed? Well, as you can see from my rating, I was not disappointed. They not only met my expectations, they surpassed them. They even earned extra brownie points for taking the time to address the issue with Daisy's father. I also wasn't quite sure how I originally felt about Nikolai's "gift" he gives to Daisy. That was probably the one and only thing I struggled with, but after he explains his reasons why and how Daisy comes to terms with this "gift", my reservations faded away. And yes, I am being vague to avoid spoilers!
There was only one minor inconsistency that I caught in the beginning of the story, but nothing that would cause me to mark my rating down. When we first meet Daisy, we learn that she only leaves the house for an hour or two a day. All windows are boarded up, so since the age of 8, she has had very little real sunlight. Daisy is described as being pale, which makes sense. But once she leaves home and Nikolai sees her, he contradicts himself twice while describing her:
"Her skin is creamy but golden as if she lives outdoors instead of within the stained brick walls of this dirty rundown apartment complex."
"Her pale skin is lovely even in this dimly lit basement."
So which is it? Is her skin pale or is it golden? Again, it's nothing major, but when I looked back at my notes to prepare for this review, I had a question mark next to these quotes.
Last Hit by Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick will forever hold a special place in my heart because quite honestly, I can't remember the last time I gave a book a perfect 5 star rating. While I was sad to see Daisy and Nikolai's story come to an end, I walked away feeling satisfied. Now I have something else to look forward to Last Breath, book 2 in the Hitman series, also written by the dynamic duo. I can't wait to read Daniel and Regan's story which sounds even more tragic and edgier than its predecessor.
AUTHOR Q&A With Jesicca Clare and Jen Frederick
1. It seems that the "Hitman" trope is becoming extremely popular lately. What inspired you both to write about the world of a hitman, specifically one that is from the Ukraine? What kind of research did you both have to do in order to make the story as authentic as possible?
JEN: I did a lot of gun research. There is no such thing as a sniper rifle only a rifle that snipers use. And bolt action rifles are more popular than others because they tend to be more accurate. AND the lighter the trigger pressure, the better you have to be at aiming. So yeah, I learned a lot about guns.
JESSICA: I had it easy! Because I did Daisy's parts, it was all right when she didn't know the things Nick did, though I did learn a lot about tasers. I think we picked the Ukraine because we were tossing around locations that Nick could have come from. He more or less sprang into our heads as Eastern European and messed up.
2. I've always been curious about books that have been written by two authors, but never had the opportunity to ask how it works. Is Last Hit the first book you've co-written together? Why did you decide to write this particular book together? Can you shed some insight as to how the writing process works for you both? How do you decide who writes what?
JEN: Last Hit came about as a result of some email goading. I was telling Jess she should write a New Adult book because I love her voice and I thought it would suit the genre perfectly. She laughed at me and said that if she was going to write a New Adult it would be about a hitman in college trying to learn algebra or something like that. I thought that was the best idea ever. Weeks passed (maybe even months) and she didn't write it so I bugged her again. Finally she said she'd only write it if I wrote it with her. Challenge accepted. I wrote Nick's first scene and Jess emailed me back with something like "I'm in."
It's the first collaborative writing project for either of us and it's super fun. We plot out the scenes in advance and then loosely assign scenes. From there we simply trade off chapters. Jess' scenes will often inspire mine.
JESSICA: Yeah! I admit I had the idea for a hitman hero for a while but I also felt like I wouldn't be able to carry it on my own, because I wouldn't be able to do the hero POV justice. Jen wrote a couple of pages of Nick, and I did Daisy, and it more or less fell together. We start out with a plot and characters, and some scene ideas. I try to leave my scenes off at places that I want Jen to pick up (so I can see what she comes up with!!!) and she usually sends me pages that make me squeal with excitement, and then I can't wait to write the next part.
3. I originally thought Nikolai and Daisy's story would continue in Last Breath, book 2 in the Hitman series which comes out at the end of the month. But after seeing the cover and reading the blurb for Last Breath, I quickly realized a new hitman takes center stage which I am very excited about. Will the series continue on after Last Breath? Or will you both be working on different projects?
JEN: We are definitely going to continue the "Last..." series for as long as we can. You'll meet at least one new character in Last Breath that I can foresee as having his own story. But in the meantime, we are both working on separate projects. I write a New Adult series called The Woodlands and the fourth book will be out late fall, early winter. This summer I hope to publish an adult contemporary duology about a bike messenger forced into unsavory acts and a wealthy man bent on revenge.
JESSICA: We squeeze in the hitmen between projects. I've got my next Billionaire release - ONCE UPON A BILLIONAIRE on April 15th and I'm currently working on book five in the series (Jonathan). I also have a scatter of self-publishing projects in the hopper in various stages of completion.
Jen Frederick is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Woodlands series. Jessica Clare is the NYT Bestselling author of the Billionaire Boys Club series. One day via email, Jessica challenged Jen that she would write a hitman romance, but only if Jen would co-write it with her. Jen responded by writing the first scene. The rest is history.
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