Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed #2) by Mary Jo Putney

Once a Rebel is the second book in the “Rogues Redeemed” series, which is also directly connected to Putney’s previous series, “Lost Lords.” This series follows five men who together escaped certain death from Portugal in 1809 (described at the beginning of Once a Soldier, previously reviewed here). This book’s hero is Gordon, first introduced in Not Quite a Wife (previously reviewed here) as Lady Agnes’s only failure at Westerfield Academy. But his real name is Lord George Gordon Richard Audley, third son of the Marquess of Kingston.

Once a Rebel front cover (Zebra/Penguin Random House)

THE PLOT: Richard and Catherine Callista “Callie” Brooke were childhood best friends, a pair of innocent troublemakers completely hated by their horrible noble families. When Callie’s father plots to marry his troublesome daughter off to a West Indies plantation owner, the teenagers run away together to elope in Scotland. But they’re caught, and while Richard’s own father would have no trouble allowing his son to be put to death, Callie makes a deal with her father: she’ll peacefully marry the plantation owner if he allows Richard to live. Richard is therefore transported to Australia instead, but Callie believes he died on the voyage.

Years later, Richard, now calling himself Gordon, is hired to find and save a widow from Washington, DC in August 1814.  The city is about to be attacked by the British, and the family of “Mrs. Audley” wants her brought back to England. It’s not until he’s rescuing her from British soldiers that Richard realizes his charge is actually his childhood friend. But she’s not ready to return to London just yet; she’s sent her surrogate family of former slaves ahead to Baltimore, straight into another battle. Joining them means waiting out the attack of Fort McHenry, and Richard and Callie begin to reconnect and become more than friends. But a few more rounds of danger wait for them. Callie is actually on the run from her stepson, who wants his “stolen” slaves back; and Richard’s family is still hoping they’ve heard the last of him.

MY TWO CENTS: There’s a lot to say about this book. First, it’s mostly a love story about the American national anthem. Francis Scott Key appears as a character (Callie’s lawyer), and he shows Callie and Richard his new poem about the battle of Fort McHenry right after he’s written it. The author even incorporates some of the phrases into Callie and Richard’s own vigil at dawn as they wait for the outcome of the battle…whose flag is flying over the fort? If you’re American and have an iota of patriotism, especially regarding “The Star Spangled Banner,” you will really feel this part. I also enjoyed reading about a piece of history not usually included in historical romance (call me out if I’m wrong here, but I just don’t remember every reading any!)

I also like that Putney continues her trend from other books of discussing the horrors and repercussions of slavery. Callie’s family consists of two children her husband fathered with his slave mistress (now deceased), and the children’s grandparents. Callie’s husband wasn’t actually cruel and horrible (except for the whole owning slaves things, of course); he didn’t abuse them. (Other than, you know, his mistress not really having a true choice about having an affair because he owned her.) He “meant” to free his children before he died; he just didn’t get around to it. So Callie has taken the teenagers and their grandparents to America, but because they’re still technically the property of Callie’s aggressive stepson, they’re all in danger.

Any disappointment I feel toward the novel is focused on the very polite, mannerly love story between the two leads. We were previously introduced to Gordon as something of an anti-hero, and yet here, most of his wildness is behind him as he’s bought a house and all but given up adventuring; this rescue is kind of his last hurrah. He’s presented as pretty much just a victim of his family. Obviously we know he’s going to redeemed by the end of the book, hence “Rogues Redeemed,” but he was pretty redeemed already…and also was apparently never really much of a bad guy to begin with.  Callie, too, starts out as a bit of a free spirit, and yet she’s burdened with adult responsibilities when we meet her as an adult. I was expecting a love story a bit out of the ordinary for author Mary Jo Putney, but these characters are as sensible and mature as her other characters. They rationally discuss their attraction to each other, and reasonably decide marriage is the obvious choice. There’s really not much of the rebel about these two. Oh, Callie has to defend herself, and Richard eventually performs what basically amounts to an execution, but you can’t blame him too much.

Callie doesn’t even react much to finding out that her childhood friend, for whose death she blamed herself, is alive and well. To be fair, at first she’s overwhelmed by the moment as he rescues her in the nick of time from soldiers. But she falls easily enough into playacting that he’s her husband whom she thought dead. She never really loses her mind or shows a lot of stunned emotions later after the danger has passed. It’s almost…stereotypically British. “Oh, I say, what a jolly good time for you to turn up alive. Well done, you.” (I exaggerate, but…I really wanted her to freak out, faint, keep hugging him, something…and she just doesn’t.)

COVER NOTES: If you’ve read my other entries, you know I want series books to all have matching covers. So of course I love that this cover matches the cover of the first book, only Callie is holding a pistol, her own weapon of choice. I’m not sure the dress is entirely accurate to the period, but it’s pretty and covers most of her body parts, so yay. The detail of the fabric is gorgeous.

BOTTOM LINE: I really wanted this book to be wilder, and Gordon to be much edgier. But I very much enjoyed the historical aspect.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available August 29, 2017, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The preview for the next novel in the series, Once a Pirate, focused on the heroine; but I’m assuming this will be Captain Hawkins’s book since he played a role in Once a Rebel. No date yet, but I’d look for it in Fall 2018. EDIT: The author has announced that the name of the next book has been changed to Once a Scoundrel.

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

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.

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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