Once a Soldier by Mary Jo Putney

July 29, 2016

"Well, we dig dig dig
Well, we dig in our mine the whole day through...
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho
It's off to work we go
We keep on singing all day long
Heigh-ho" -
Snow White, Disney

Once upon a time Mary Jo Putney wrote one of my alllll time favorite books - The Rake -
with one of my allll time favorite heroes, Reginald Davenport. Hence, it always saddens me when one of my old faithful authors of one of the bestessst books ever presents me with a book which is not up to her standards. Or, at least what I expect from her/him. Once a Soldier is the first book in Mary Jo Putney's Rogues Redeemed series.

Plain speaking. I had a hard time finishing this book. It started out promising. There is the requisite set-up for future books in the series. We get to meet a number of men who just scream "hero." They are in a prison awaiting execution set for the next day. While imprisoned, they have a "I would do this if I were to live" moment. Well, as luck would have it, our intrepid hero Will Masterson finds a way out of the prison, and they all escape. They separate, but vow to always keep in contact with each other. I enjoyed this set-up and I was very much interested in reading Will's story - but it went downhill from there.

Napoleon has just been sent to Elba and the war seems to be over. The troops are returning to their homelands, hoping that everything hasn't been destroyed in the process of Napoleon's march to conquer all. Major Lord Will Masterson, our hero, wants to return home; but before he can, he is sent on a mission by one of the guys from the prison. He is assigned a regiment of soldiers from the little kingdom of San Gabriel. He is to return with them to their country and report on the conditions of San Gabriel. It seems that Great Britain will help out this little country if it has been devastated by Napoleon's trampling through. I guess Great Britain wouldn't have its own financial problems at the time and they could help restore little San Gabriel. Anyway, Will leads San Gabriel's sons back home - at least some of them. When he arrives in San Gabriel he finds destruction, he also finds that the ruling monarch and the monarch's heir have been taken captive or killed or something. Anyway, the king and his son are missing, and they have left the throne in the arms of a regent with Alzheimer’s and an underage princess. But do not fear my little Petunia's, for you see San Gabriel has been saved by the amazonian illegitimate English woman - Athena Markham. Athena has been Princess Sophia's friend and advisor for a long time - Amazon Athena is also our heroine.

Well, Will and Amazon Athena are attracted to each other right away, but before they can really connect there must be the traditional San Gabriel welcome home feast and celebration with music, cheese and Sangria. The Sangria is the best in all Europe, made right here in little San Gabriel. Their wine is better!

Will and Athena wiggle their eyebrows at each other, but before they can go any further Will must call a city council meeting and listen to boring talks on  how to rebuild San Gabriel. He must ponder Great Britain's role in rebuilding San Gabriel - and there is the wine to consider.

Will and Athena gaze into each others eyes, then because Will was an engineer he goes off to the town's waterwheel and with the help of the ex-soldier's they rebuild it. While they are there they have a look at the river - you just never know when you may need to widen a river. After-all you may need to ship wine up/down that river.

Will and Athena touch each other, then they talk about the production of wine. Athena tells Will she saved allllll of the towns wine by putting it in some caves and then sealing the caves. Will must look at the caves, he is an engineer after all.

Will and Athena smile at each other, but then Will decides to rebuild the bridge. Will and the ex-soldiers of San Gabriel rebuild the towns bridge, then they celebrate with wine and cheese. Will's hairs on the back of his neck are twitching.

Will looks at the destroyed vineyards. Why, he has a friend whose family owns vineyards, just over in the next country, over the hills, over the mountains, over the rivers. He sends for his friend Justin. Justin brings saplings. Justin gazes at Princess Sophia, Sophia gazes at Justin - oh dear it's the Princess falling for a commoner plot. It's also a secondary romance thrown in at a time when the main romance isn't working. Why isn't it working? Because it's time for Will to plant some saplings. Will's neck is still twitching.

Justin mentions Will is a lord. Athena throws a hissy fit because she hatessssss all nobles. She goes off in a huff, they reconcile. But Athena knows she is not good enough for Will. Will's neck says something is wrong. Athena and Will have some wine and cheese - San Gabriel's wine is the bestest.

Will and Athena talk. Will and Amazon Athena blow up the sealed caves. The wine is saved!!! Now, the little town can prosper!! But first let's have some wine and cheese. Hey, let's go on a picnic!! And let's take some wine and cheese. Wait a minute, Will's having that pesky hair/neck problem again! And, it's not from all the wine and cheese - it's from some remnants of the French army. After a brief kerfuffle with some renegade French soldiers we find out there's a plan afoot to invade San Gabriel. The evilllll French commander plans to  marry Princess Sophia and get the wine - not necessarily in that order. Will, Athena, Justin and Sophia must come up with a plan to stop hundreds of French soldiers from invading their little city. Picnic over!

Will and Athena do the whankee-roo. Farewell my love, I must be off to blow up the mountain and stop the invading French. I must gather the townsfolk and do some more talking. Even being outnumbered a gazillion to one, Will defeats the nefarious French wine pilferer.

There is more celebration! Break out the wine and cheese!! Welcome the missing king and heir back!!! More wine!! More cheese!!! Justin gets the thumbs up to court the Princess becausssseeee he can make wine!!! Will overcomes Athena's "I can't marry you" routine. They all have some wine and cheese. The end.

Sign. I could not connect with this story. After reading page after page of lessons on "how to rebuild a city destroyed by war," I could feel my eyes glazing over. There wasn't any chemistry between Will and Athena. Too much of the storytelling was spent on other things and not on the romance. This could have been a travelogue book on wine country. Big disappointment.

Time/Place: After the first defeat of Napoleon, San Gabriel (it doesn't exist)
Sensuality: Warm


Shirtless Guys!!! Upcoming HIstorical Releases for August 15 to September 14, 2016

Authors with an asterisk*, I'm picking up! For more Upcoming Releases that aren't historical see Hey Delia!!! August 15, 2016 to September 14, 2016. By the way, it is not my fault if a publisher changes the release dates - just so you know, they do not consult me.
Bronwen Evans

A Taste of Seduction
The Disgraced Lords series
August 16
Cynthia Breeding

Rogue of the Moors
Rogue series
August 30
Elizabeth Michels

The Rebel Heir
Spare Heirs series
September 6
Ella Quinn

When a Marquis Chooses a Bride
Worthingtons series
August 30

Georgie Lee

The Cinderella Governess
Governess Tales series
August 23
Heather Graham

When We Touch
Graham series
August 30
Jane Ashford

What the Duke Doesn't Know
Duke’s Sons series
Sept 6
Jeannie Lin

Swords and Surrender series
August 23
Jenna Kernan

The Warrior’s Captive Bride
August 23
Julia Justiss

Stolen Encounters with the Duchess
Hadley’s Hellions series
August 23
Karen Hawkins*

Mad for the Plaid
The Oxenburg Princes series
August 30
Laura Lee Guhkre*

No Mistress of Mine
American Heiress in 

London series
August 30
Lenora Bell

If I Only Had a Duke
The Disgraceful Dukes series
August 30
Rosanne Bittner

Love's Sweet Revenge
Outlaw Hearts series
September 6
Sarah MacLean*

A Scot in the Dark
Scandal and Scoundrel series
August 30
Susanne Lord

Discovery of Desire
London Explorers series
September 6
Vanessa Kelly

My Fair Princess
Improper Princesses  series
August 30


A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James

July 18, 2016
Big Treasures in small packages.
What a nice read! In A Gentleman Never Tells, Eloisa James presents us with a charming short story. For those of you following along, this one is loosely connected to the Essex sisters, and I do mean loosely - so don't go wracking your brains trying to remember. Just sit back and enjoy.

 I am always impressed with an author when they can come up with a good short story and Ms. James as given us a full, well-written tale with characters who seem to be fully developed. On top of that, the romance part of the book made me smile. This story was a delight.

We have Oliver Berwick, a bachelor who has inherited an outrageous niece. His brain-think while his niece is nattering on was pretty funny. I'm hoping we will see more of this funny teenager in the future. Anyway, Oliver and his niece have been "invited" to a house party. At the house party he becomes immediately interested in Lizzie, Lady Trout. Lizzie is a widow and she wants to stay that way. She has hidden herself away from people; her protection is her books. In her books she finds a place where she belongs and there isn't anyone there to humiliate or degrade her.

Lizzie has not had very good luck in the man department. Her husband died in his mistress' arms. Now while that's bad enough, from the very beginning of her marriage her husband made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with her. He even blamed Lizzie for his deficiency in the Mr. Toad department. So, in this case we have a legitimate virgin widow. Needless to say, Lizzie viewed herself as a failure. Hurt and dejected, she returned to her father for support. Her father's reply was also rejection, telling her she had to return to her cheese-wad husband. So, Lizzie returned to live with her husband, who in turn lived with his mistress. Not only did he return to his mistress, he was very public about it. It is not at all surprising that Lizzie has become absorbed into the world which books can create. It is also this Lizzie who Oliver falls in love with and presides to help Lizzie see herself as she actually is.

I adored Oliver and Lizzie. They brought out the best in each other. There was plenty of humor throughout this short story. Oliver had a wonderful sense of humor, he was kind and any woman would easily fall in love with him. Lizzie had more angst in her life and was pretty down on herself in the beginning. But under Oliver's gentle hand, she blossoms. She turns into a woman who knows what she wants, knows she has more to offer people and decides on her own that Oliver is the right person for her. Ms. James as created a very memorable couple in just a few short pages. Best of all there's not enough space for a prolonged "I can't marry you because..."

The secondary characters are also fun. Lizzie's sister Cat had a very strong personality. I do admit there were times when Cat almost journeyed into overbearing territory. But I think Cat was desperately worried about her sister and was trying to help in the only way she knew how. Once again I think it helped that Cat's aggressive behavior was in a short story and not a full-length novel. If she had been given a longer time, she probably would have become an unlikable character. The most enjoyable secondary character in the book was Oliver's niece Hattie. Hattie has quite a personality. She's talkative, funny, witty but also wily. Hattie seems to have a underhanded way of getting what she wants and I hope we see more of her in future books.

Overall - I highly recommend this little gem. It was a fast read, nothing was overdone and the couple hit just the right chord with me.

Time/Place: England 1826
Sensuality: Warm/Hot

The Fairest of Them All by Cathy Maxwell

July 18, 2016
Twins...I hatesssss twinssss.
In the case of The Fairest of Them All, by Cathy Maxwell, I may not have had a problem with the twin trope if only the hero, Jack, hadn't been such a stinker.
Here's the deal: at the age of 15, Jack ran away from school. He did that because he could no longer live with being the second son. It was allllll just way too much for the little rotter. He just ups and leaves. His family believes him to be dead. His mother mourns for him - deeply. He eventually lands in America where he has become a self-made man and fallen in love with the open space, which was the new land. He also becomes a politically-minded lawyer. He is gone for over fifteen years - not once during all of that time does he drop a line, give a shout, send a message which tells his grieving family that he is alive. He even marries and becomes a widower and never once does he send word. Then because he wants to prevent a war between the United States and England he returns, crashes a party his family is throwing, says HEY I'm back and I need your help meeting the right people. While Jack was portrayed as a kind hero, I could only view these actions as cruel. No matter what he did for the rest of the book, I could not get past his treatment of his family. And, I'm sorry, but the whiny reflections of a fifteen-year-old boy boo-hooing he wasn't good enough didn't excuse his actions. He also falls in love with the woman his brother falls for - although his actions in regard to Charlene I understood and was able to accept. It is the treatment of his family - mainly his mother - I cannot get past. I did not view Jack as a hero.

Charlene, our heroine, on the other hand, is a penniless aristocratic woman who is making money by being a pick-pocket. See how realistic this story was/is? She is also in the black book of some local thugs because she has crossed into their territory. She initially meets Jack by picking his friend's pocket. Jack gives chase - she escapes - but neither one of them can forget the other. It's a case of instant love, although, she has no trouble setting her sights on Gavin, the Duke of Baynton (Jack's brother). Charlene and Jack's story was a mish-mash of deceit, love, and missing chemistry. Then there is Gavin - poor ol' Gavin. This is his second jilting.

Gavin. Gavin was the one I became really interested in during the Jack/Charlene romance. Spoiler: he's a thirty-four year old virgin. We won't tell him, but he meets his heroine in this book and they hate each other. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I can feel my expectations rising for their story because it has the makings of a fun read. Here's hoping.

Bottom-line: not my favorite Cathy Maxwell book. I had a big problem with Jack's actions. For me, the reason for his actions were feeble at best. Using his youth as an excuse is not a satisfactory answer, especially when one considers he never made any attempt as he matured to contact his family. Jack never atoned for his callousness, and I need my heroes to be redeemed by the end of the story or it just doesn't work.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality: Warm

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas

July 7, 2016
G.G.A.G. Alert  
Yes, my little Petunias, I have issued a Gigantic Girth And Growing Alert for Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas. You betcha - "Hey now, hey now, hey now, hey now - It's finger pop poppin' time" or should I say almost finger poppin-time because our heroine's fingers just cannot touch while they are encircling our hero's gargantuan Mr. Toad.

Welcome to Ms. Kleypas' world of gigantic guys with gigantic whatsits. Ladies and gents let me remind you that if you are picturing our hero Rhys Winterborne as a current film star, remember just 'cause those stars look big on the screen doesn't mean they are in real life. Ms. Kleypas made me waste a whole lot of time trying to find big hulking film stars who were also handsome. Some tall ones I found were Aidan Turner, Gerard Butler (get past the spitting and growling), Richard Armitage, Liam Neeson, and Dwayne Johnson. You could also look to the past for John Wayne and Gary Cooper but I wouldn't really call them hulking. Anyway, we have a handsome, hulking Welshman by the name of Rhys Winterborne. He's a big guy. How do we know he's big? We are reminded that he is huge about a gazillion times in this story. I became a little irritated with the reminder, especially when he worried a lot about ripping the heroine apart with his big kazoo. I sometimes tire of heroines with big scaredy eyes focused on those tumescent tent poles - one could almost think that those poles were the only pain females ever had in their mommy parts. Or should I say pressure? Anyway, Rhys is big - everywhere.

Rhys is also a delightful character. He's a strong, self-made man and not an aristocrat - although he's awfully rich. Rhys is more of a typical Romanceland Alpha hero. He's stubborn, controlling, manipulative and a tad bit omnipresent. However, even with all of that he's a very likable guy - he never became oppressive with his controlling. Rhys is also a very loyal protective man - he is totally a terribly swoon-worthy man. With Rhys we know that our heroine Lady Helen Revenel will always be protected.

Lady Helen Revenel is an innocent, shy heroine. Don't think that Helen's shyness means she is weak - she is not. Ms. Kleypas has endowed Helen with strength of character - she is just what Rhys needs. They balance each other. Together they make a great couple who we, the reader, know will have their HEA. They are a complete pair.

Helen's innocence. I found Helen's innocence very charming and at times humorous. The "first-time" scene in the book made me smile. Usually the heroines have big eyes because you-know-what is so huge and of course our hulking hero is big. However, instead of saying the standard "it won't fit," Helen wasn't sure which of her openings his Mr. Toad was supposed to be "inside of." I found Rhys' frustration comical as he tried to explain the facts of life to Helen while all the time keeping his overwhelming arousal under control. It was a scene that could have been the same-ol-same-ol but this time there was a little bit of a twist to it.

Plotline. Here's the plotline for those of you who can keep track of those kind of things. In Cold-Hearted Rake Rhys and Helen were secondary characters who almost stole the show. In that book they became engaged and then Rhys overwhelmed Helen with his passionate kiss. One can only assume it was quite a kiss or some really bad breath because Helen ran from the room in hysterics - had palpitations and all kinds of trauma. The engagement was off. This story begins with Helen arriving at Rhys' doorstep saying it was all a mistake and she wants to marry him. Now, at this point Rhys is in Helen's family's black book, so he concocts this wild scheme to ruin Helen and force her family's hand. She agrees. They get the big bang over with at the beginning of the story and the rest of the story is taken up with Rhys and Helen trying to get married with a few stumbling blocks along the way. That's about it. Oh sure, there is a minor boo-boo problem that pops up midway through the story, but it doesn't really do too much. The problem doesn't add that much tension to the story and in my humble opinion I'm not sure we needed it. And, that's about it for the plot.

A math challenge. Okay, Ms. Kleypas - just how are you going to do it. There were so many interesting secondary characters in this book: West, Mrs. Fernsby, Dr. Garrett Gibson, Pandora, Cassandra, Severin and Dr. Havelock. We already know that the next book will be about Pandora and Gabriel St. Vincent (Sebastian's son). Then there is one more book in the series after that; the math doesn't work out. What about all of the rest of the people? I want to know allll of their stories! What are you going to do, Ms. Kleypas? Sure, sure, there are novella's but both West and Severin are just screaming for a full-length novel. What we have here is a conundrum.

So, my little Petunias, Marrying Winterborne is one you don't want to pass up. It's very rare that Ms. Kleypas presents us with a stinker and she hasn't in this case either. While Marrying Winterborne may not reach the glorious heights of The Devil in Winter or Dreaming of You, it's still a good read. It's filled with a boat-load of memorable characters and a wonderful romance couple. Go ahead - take this book to the beach and have a great time reading - you'll like this one.

Time/Place: Late 1800s England
Sensuality: Hot