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.

The Last Chance Christmas Ball (Anthology)

If Christmas seems far away, think again! It’s that time of year when Christmas romance stories start getting released. And anyone who reads romance probably knows of the Word Wenchesa group of romance authors who all blog together. This group of ladies (listed below) have written a very interesting anthology of separate Christmas stories that are all interconnected, which I’m sure was no easy feat. Some take place at the “Last Chance Christmas Ball,” so-called because a lot confirmed singles are in the mix. Some stories take place on the way to the ball, and some shortly after.

Last Chance Christmas Ball Front Cover (Kensington)

Last Chance Christmas Ball Front Cover (Kensington)

THE PLOTS (by story):

“My True Love Hath My Heart” by Joanna Bourne: A jeweler from Antwerp is masquerading as a maid to find a stolen jewel, with the unexpected help of her former lover…a nobleman who works for the foreign office.

“A Scottish Carol” by Susan King: A doctor finds out his prize pupil is his old flame in disguise, and they reconnect while snowed-in over the holiday.

“Christmas Larks” by Patricia Rice: An ill nobleman is cared for by his childhood friend, whom he doesn’t know has inherited his house. She doesn’t know how to tell him that his home will soon be an orphanage.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Mary Jo Putney: An injured soldier’s childhood sweetheart makes a last attempt to pull him out of seclusion.

“Old Flames Dance” by Cara Elliott: A couple previously kept apart by their families get a second chance at their romance when the widowed lady returns from India.

“A Season for Marriage” by Nicola Cornick: A couple who married after being caught in a “compromising” position (he was comforting her) attempt to put their marriage on the right track despite misunderstandings.

“Miss Finch and the Angel” by Jo Beverly: A flirtatious nobleman takes an interest in their hostess’s mousey companion, who has a checkered past.

“Mistletoe Kisses” by Anne Gracie: A young lady preparing to leave her home to its new owner enjoys one last Christmas before becoming a teacher at a girl’s seminary. She is joined by a brother and sister whose carriage is wrecked on the way to the ball.

MY TWO CENTS: These short romances are believable because most of the characters already knew each other pre-story. While the majority of the couples are becoming reacquainted, there are only a few “love at first sight” that proceed without too much relationship development. The stories are also pretty clean, with either no sex or very little description.

I’m familiar with a few of these authors, and a couple are even on my auto-buy list. I would not say these stories are my favorite of their work, but there is a certain joyfulness about them. Most of the characters feel that they’ve missed their chances at love with a particular person, or a happy family life, or a home. It’s nice to see wishes come true in a Christmasy way.

For most anthologies, I’d recommend reading the stories very gradually. In this book, however, the stories are all connected, so you’re better off reading them all together at one time. For example, the ball is thrown by the good-hearted Lady Holly, who is celebrating her 50th ball. She links all the characters together. The characters are mentioned in one another’s stories, and sometimes play a more major part. (For instance, three of the stories focus on three siblings as the main characters.)

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re in the mood for short Christmas romances, this is your book. If anthologies aren’t your thing and you like more relationship development than what you find in a short story, skip it.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half to four out of five teacups. Some stories are more enjoyable than others, but all are fairly uplifting in the Christmas theme.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

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

Not Always a Saint (Lost Lords #7) by Mary Jo Putney

If you read Book 6 in the “Lost Lords” series, Not Quite a Wife (reviewed here), you already know this Lost Lord: Daniel Herbert, brother of Laurel. His romance with Jessie Kelham is my favorite Mary Jo Putney book in recent memory. (And by the way, whoever is doing these covers for Kensington is just knocking it out of the park. I loved the elegant piano cover on Book 6, and this is a great follow-up. And yes, this red dress makes an appearance in the book.)

Not Always a Saint Front Cover (Zebra/Kensington)

Not Always a Saint Front Cover (Zebra/Kensington)

THE PLOT: Daniel, who’s kind of a doctor and sometimes a clergyman but definitely a do-gooder, once treated a woman who had been beaten so badly that he couldn’t tell her features. The woman, who gave her name as “Jane,” presumably got away from her abusive husband after Daniel gave her some money.

Flash forward to years later. Daniel, having just inherited a title, goes wife-hunting for someone to help run his estates. At the same time, newly widowed Jessie is looking for a husband to protect her from her nephew-in-law. The nephew, Frederick, expected to inherited his Uncle Philip’s title, and instead, Philip found a loophole to leave the title to his and Jessie’s daughter Beth. Frederick is unpleasant enough about this shock that Jessie fears for her and her daughter’s safety, so she goes looking for a protective man to marry her. This will keep Frederick, Beth’s closest mail relative,  from becoming the new Baroness Kelham’s legal guardian.

When they meet, Daniel and Jessie fall into instant lust, but is that enough for two sensible people who have specific practical needs to build a marriage? And what IS the truth about Jessie’s past? When will Daniel figure out that he met Jessie once as Jane? Exactly how many skeletons does Jessie have in her closet, and can a genuinely good man like Daniel stand being married to a “wicked” woman?

MY TWO CENTS: There’s something about this couple that really spoke to me. Daniel is an absolutely good guy, but he never trips over into judgmental. Jessie has endured a lot of mental and physical abuse in her life, and while she’s not exactly a wilting damsel in distress, there’s a relief and joy in seeing Daniel help her with her problems. I felt like these two really connected, and I rooted for them to get together and be happy.

I was afraid that the ending was going to be too predictable, but it wasn’t. There are some twists and turns that keep me guessing until the end. There were also fewer instances of Putney’s usual repeated phrases that pull me out of the reading experience. People still “frown thoughtfully” and say things “ruefully,” but not as often as in other recent Putney books.

The reader also gets to visit some previous characters, which helps firmly establish this couple in the Lost Lords world. There’s an appearance by Lady Agnes as well.

BOTTOM LINE: While I always look forward to a Mary Jo Putney book, I found this one more enjoyable than most. I didn’t want to quit reading until I had finished it, and I’m looking forward to the next Lost Lord. I’m guessing he’ll be Captain Gordon, “Lady Agnes’s one failure.”

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available August 25, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

Not Quite a Wife (Lost Lords #6) by Mary Jo Putney

I’ve been reading Mary Jo Putney books for over 20 years now (YIKES!!!) I know many readers love the “Fallen Angels” series, but it’s Silk and Shadows that has remained my favorite Putney book all these years. Not Quite a Wife is the latest in the “Lost Lords,” a series about men who became friends as boys at an unusual school.

Not Quite a Wife Front Cover (Zebra Books/Kensington)

Not Quite a Wife Front Cover (Zebra Books/Kensington)

THE PLOT: Laurel Herbert married James Kirkland when she was 18, he was 21, and they had known each other for about 5 minutes…and after their dreamy year-long honeymoon, they separated. What happened? Innocent, religious Laurel walked in on her spymaster husband killing a man with his bare hands. Whoops. They’ve lived apart for ten years. Now, a feverish James is attacked and robbed on the street and carried unconscious into the clinic run by Laurel and her brother, Daniel (the next Lost Lord, natch). Laurel cares for James’s injuries and fever, but the malaria attack is so bad that he’s not in his right mind. In his dream state, he makes overtures to Laurel, who’s been celibate for 10 years, and…well, you KNOW she winds up pregnant.

This all happens in, like, the first two chapters, so I’m not giving much away. The bulk of the book is really about their reconciliation. This is all setup for trying again for the sake of the child. But how are they going to make two totally separate lives into one marriage? How can Laurel live with her beliefs and her husband at the same time? Oh, and Laurel has helped rescue a Jamaican girl from a slaver, so now the slaver is out for revenge and Laurel is in danger.

MY TWO CENTS: At one point, Laurel describes a gown as being “quietly elegant,” and that describes Mary Jo Putney’s writing as well. The majority of the book is people talking. While they talk, they often “frown thoughtfully” and “smile ruefully.” (Putney uses these terms A LOT in all her writing, not just this book.) There is some action toward the end of the book. On the whole, though, if you’re looking for mystery, constant danger, or humor, this is not the book for you. There are a couple of steamy love scenes.

Super-shout-out to the absolutely fabulous scene of ALL the Lost Lords wives together, discussing Laurel’s problem. There’s almost a throwdown between Cassie of Book 4, No Longer a Gentleman and Sarah of Book 5, Sometimes a Rogue, over the former’s previous relationship with the latter’s husband. Continuity is nice in a series!

Otherwise, there was a lot of predictability here. You know from the summary copy and from the way the couple immediately, “accidentally” fall into bed together that a pregnancy is coming. I think, by the end, the reader can comfortably guess how Laurel will reconcile her issues with violence. The satisfaction readers will get from this book is from the journey, not the destination.

That said, I’m not sure romance readers will sympathize with Laurel. She’s kind of sanctimonious, and readers of the whole series are likely to side with James since they already “know” him. And unfortunately, modern readers are less likely to be shocked by violence. On the other hand,  imagine a marriage between someone adamantly for gun control and someone absolutely resolute about the right to bear arms. The debate about the necessity of violence is a timeless issue.

I can’t stress how glad I am that once James finds out about the pregnancy, his immediate reaction isn’t: “Whose baby is it, since I don’t remember having sexual relations with you.” I hate that plot device more than anything else in romance, and if that had happened, I wouldn’t have finished the book. I probably would have thrown it.

SPECIAL COVER NOTE: I have to give a shout-out here for how beautiful and relevant this cover is. Love of music first brought Laurel and James together, and it continues to get them through rough patches. And really, how many romance covers show a piano? A gorgeous piano? And the combination of colors…really, this is just a standout cover. I wish her sleeve weren’t dipping provocatively, but it’s a small gripe.

BOTTOM LINE: Not my favorite book of the series, but a good read for winding down in the evenings. Read it if you’re following the series, but Putney’s Silk and Secrets is a better “spouses who married young, separated for years, and found their way back to each other” book. I think we got introduced to two future Lost Lords in this book. Daniel’s book, publishing in August of next year, is Not Always a Saint. I’m assuming the one after that will be about the steamship captain we’re briefly and mysteriously introduced to.

TEACUP RATING: I give this book about three to three-and-a-half out of five teacups. Sort of an average to slightly above-average read, definitely not bad, but I don’t think this book on its own would hook new readers into the series.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in mass market paperback and ebook formats on August 26, 2014.

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

 

 

 

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