Once a Soldier (Rogues Redeemed #1) by Mary Jo Putney

First thing readers should know: This is NOT your typical London ball/drawing room Regency romance. This new series also picks up with the “Lost Lords” series’ characters, including primary hero Will Masterson and secondary hero Justin Ballard.

Once a Soldier Front Cover (Zebra Historical/Kensington)

Once a Soldier Front Cover (Zebra Historical/Kensington)

THE PLOT: After Napoleon’s defeat, Major Will Masterson agrees to take some soldiers to their small (fictitious) home country between Spain and Portugal. He finds that the country is still missing their king and crown prince, and the Princess Sofia is ruling with her primary advisor, Athena Markham. Athena is an illegitimate Englishwoman who was born of a notorious noblewoman and a noble father who refused to claim her. She is scarred for life for being referred to as “Lady Whore’s daughter,” so even though she’s attracted to Will, she’s cautious about forming an actual relationship. And when she accidentally finds out that he’s a lord, she breaks off the flirtation. She knows she’d never be accepted by London society.

In the meantime, Will, Athena, Justin, and Sofia are all working to rebuild the tiny country and protect it from possible guerrilla attacks. There’s a lot of talk about breaking open caves that were sealed off to protect the country’s wine reserve; opening up the river for trade routes; and exporting the fine wine through Porto with Justin’s help.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s a nice change to have characters do something actively productive and not just argue about romance, or dancing, or betrothals. Since this is a Mary Jo Putney book, everyone is very mature about talking through all possible scenarios to find solutions to problems both romantic and practical. There is a build throughout toward military action at the end.

Will and Athena are a good match. Athena is so sensible and competent that she needs a deep, dark past as some conflict. It’s too bad they can’t end up running the country full-time. Sofia and Justin are a nice secondary romance, but you know it’s all going to work out, and you can make a pretty good guess at how it will work out. It’s the journey that’s important here, not the destination. The subsequent books in the series were set up nicely with the opening scene.

COVER NOTES: This yellow and blue combo is stroking and pleasing, and I LOVE that it shows a scene straight out of the book, down to Athena’s dress. Good job, cover artist! Love it!

BOTTOM LINE: If you like your romances light, fluffy, and full of humor and ballrooms, then this isn’t the book for you. If you’re already a Putney fan, you’ll love this one.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available June 28, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Once a Rebel, book 2 in the series, will be published in October 2017. This will be the book about Gordon…known as “Westerfield Academy’s only failure.”

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

Amy Snow caught my attention right away, and I was excited to have the opportunity to check out an advanced copy this new Victorian novel. This is a mystery story, but also a story about a teenage girl discovering who she wants to be and, better yet, can be.

Amy Snow Front Cover (Simon & Schuster)

Amy Snow Front Cover (Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Amy Snow was abandoned as a newborn and found and rescued by eight-year-old Lady Aurelia Vennaway. The Vennaways kept the infant, but while Aurelia adopts her as a little sister, the Vennaway parents are less than welcoming. Aurelia’s father is mostly indifferent, but her mother is especially venomous toward little Amy. She is kept in the servant’s quarters until Aurelia is old enough to demand Amy as her companion.

At first, the story alternates between Amy’s present and her past with Aurelia. In the present, Aurelia has died and left 17-year-old Amy money and clues to a “treasure hunt,” which will eventually lead Amy to a carefully hidden secret. In flashbacks, Amy tells of when Aurelia collapsed and was told she was dying. Aurelia heads off to travel the countryside, leaving Amy behind. Aurelia’s formerly frequent and descriptive letters to Amy become rare and detached, and she stays away much longer than originally planned. But when she unexpectedly arrives home, her bond with Amy becomes stronger than ever.

When Aurelia dies three years later, the Vennaways banish Amy from their home. The story then follows Amy on her quest, starting out with ten pounds and a letter from Aurelia and taking her to meet new people, make new friends for the first time, experience some romance, and ultimately understand much more about her beloved friend as well as herself.

MY TWO CENTS: There are really two mysteries here: where Amy came from, and what Aurelia wants her to discover. While these keep the reader’s interest, the real star of this book is Amy’s journey. She doesn’t even know her own origins and has lived her whole life at the whim of the Vennaways. She’s hated and scorned by Lady Vennaway, while treated as a pet, almost an accessory, by Aurelia. Aurelia’s final gift to Amy isn’t so much money and beautiful clothes, although that’s part of it. What she really does is provide Amy with courage, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence. The quest takes Amy from a shadow to the person who makes decisions, right or wrong. And as Amy begins to understand how Aurelia felt trapped by various circumstances, she better understands how important her own independence is.

Amy also gets a taste of romance for the first time in her life. At her first stop, she meets a young man who captures her interest and seems a kindred spirit. But she also meets a young gentleman who begins courting her in earnest. Why would a well-known gentleman be interesting in a foundling like Amy Snow, and why would he continue to pursue her as she travels?

BOTTOM LINE: Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. Not exactly a Gothic novel, but very throwback in tone…I especially liked Amy’s love for Mr. Dickens. I very much enjoyed this first novel from Rees and will be looking forward to her second.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available June 7, 2016, in trade paperback, eformats, and audio.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR: Rees’s second novel, Florence Grace, will be available in the UK on June 30, 2016. No official word yet on the US publication, but if you want it immediately, try Book Depository.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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