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Monday, July 11, 2011

When Johnny Doesn't Come Marching Home

Nothing flips my switch harder than a romance novel about grown-ups.  Soldier On Her Doorstep by Soraya Lane isn't a flashy book.  It's not a story that's going to promise you thrills and chills.  It's a nice book, about nice people, who find their way to each other.  Which might sound boring to some, but for those of us who get tired of eye-rolling, trumped up conflict, and characters who morph into silly ninnies?  This is good stuff.

Alex Dane has been discharged from the Army and finds himself standing on Lisa Kennedy's front porch.  He was stationed overseas with Lisa's husband, William.  Alex came home, William did not.  As he lay dying in his arms, he asked Alex to deliver some letters to Lisa and to give her a message.  Which Alex does, but not without feeling incredibly guilty in the process.

It's been 8 months since William's passing.  Lisa still feels his loss, but the grief isn't quite as fresh as it once was.  She's more concerned with her young daughter, Lilly, who hasn't spoken to anyone other than Lisa since William's death.  Now here's Alex standing on her doorstep, a man she takes one look at and knows is hurting.  He's so different from William.  Closed off, guarded, and haunted by a past he doesn't want to talk about it.  Lisa cannot turn him away, especially since it appears the man doesn't have a home of his own to go to.  The added bonus?  He seems to be able to reach through to her daughter.  Lilly takes a real shine to her Daddy's friend.

Now this sounds like it should be a fairly gut-wrenching angsty read.'s not.  And I suspect that's going to be a problem for some readers.  Lisa's grief for her dead husband is not fresh.  We're not meeting her when the wound is still bloody and raw.  She still mourns his loss, but she's working towards moving on.  Partly thanks to her own job (she writes cookbooks for a living) and the fact that she has a daughter to take care of.  We also find out that she suffered a miscarriage just after William was deployed, but it's been months, and she's....moving forward.  Readers looking for a heroine mired in grief aren't going to find one in Lisa.

Alex is the one carrying all the angst baggage in this story.  He's a man with no roots.  His parents died when he was young, and he has no other family.  After being shuffled around the foster care system, he joined the Army.  He's a soldier who comes home home.  Not to mention that he's lugging around a Big Secret that concerns William.  Every time he looks at Lisa, he's not only smitten, he feels guilty as hell.

What I loved about this story is that Lisa is a mature, competent heroine.  The author doesn't demonize William in order to make it "OK" that Lisa is falling for Alex.  She loved William, she's falling in love with Alex.  The best part of this book for me?  When Lisa muses on how lucky she is, how fortunate she is, to have not only fallen in love once in her life - but twice.  Oh happy day!

This is a very leisurely paced book.  It's gentle, it's soft - but it packs an emotional punch at the end, when the Big Secret comes tumbling out.  How this is dealt with is also stellar.  No silly misunderstandings.  No flying off the emotional handle.  Just one seriously damaged hero working his way through, and a heroine who tries to knock some sense into him.  I also loved how the military angle was handled in this story.  Lisa knows, first and foremost, that her husband was a soldier.  Period.  She also knows that Alex was a soldier.  She knows this, understands it, and is well aware what she signed up for.  This is not a woman prone to fantasies about men in uniform.

No, it's not flashy.  And I suspect more than one reader is going to desperately wish this were a Harlequin SuperRomance.  But it is a lovely debut novel that shows a quiet maturity, and is a good launching pad for a new category author.  Oh happy day!

Final Grade = B


Dr J said...

Wendy, I absolutely agree with your take on this novel. I read and reviewed it for The Book Binge and really fell in love with it. It struck me as a gentle and kind love story that attempted to deal with the hurts of war in a way that was so much more like real life. I loved her little girl who seemed to "get" Alex right from the first. Thanks for this nice review. Reminds me of lots of reasons why I liked this book so much.

Kristie (J) said...

I don't know if I dare confess this or not, but this is a line I haven't tried. However, we shall fix this with this book. It sounds right up my alley with wounded hero and all.

Sunita said...

What a great review! I have this in my Review TBR but I am behind. It's moving up fast now!

Wendy said...

Dr J: I don't have any first hand experience re: military spouses - but this one seemed to hit all the right notes. At least for me. I liked that it wasn't a "showy" book. Much like real life me thinks.

KristieJ: The HR line is the "gentle" line. So the sex is "behind closed doors." I think you may like this one. The hero is nicely wounded, and the heroine is patient with him. The conflict is really quiet though. Don't expect a lot of flashy angst flying around!

Sunita: I rather liked this one. It is a slow boiler, but the emotional payoff at the end was worth the wait. I just liked the maturity in the story. No characters prone to hysterics - which was lovely.

*Goddess* said...

Fine, YOU liked it, Wendy, but what does Lemon Drop think? Her opinion is the deciding factor for me!

I'm going to order this one. I'm so tired of the 'billionaire treating his mistress like crap' books that it sounds like a refreshing change. I'm in need of a gentle and soft read. Thanks!

Kwana said...

Thanks for the review. This book sounds lovely.

Leah Braemel said...

I downloaded this on my Kindle this yesterday on your recommendation and ended up staying up until 2 AM finishing it. O_o

Your review says it all--it's a lovely story and very nicely handled, not overly angsty.

As I was reading it, I was reminded of an old Silhouette book I'd read by Kathleen Korbel -- A Soldier's Heart. (I gave my copy away ten years ago when we moved and I've regretted it ever since.)

Soraya's story will be going on my digital Keeper list.

Susanna Kearsley said...

You had me at: "It's a nice book, about nice people, who find their way to each other." I have a weakness for those, and I still think that some of the best writing out there is in the category lines.

I also need one more military-hero book for my 11 in 2011 AAR Reading Challenge, so your timing is perfect :-)

Off to buy...

Jill said...

So glad to read your review. I wanted to read this b/c she's a new author to one of my favorite lines, but I felt a bit on the fence. Truthfully, I am not always a fan of military romances, but "nice people" and "not flashy" sounds perfect.

Wendy said...

Goddess: Lemon Drop would probably be disappointed that I'm not reading more erotica right now - LOL!

Kwana: It was a nice read.

Leah: Yeah! I love it when my recommendations don't suck for other readers :) Victoria Janssen recommended that Kathleeen Korbel book recently. I was able to score a copy via PaperbackSwap.

Susanna: I think category is a good "proving ground" for a lot of writers. It's HARD to write category!

Jill: I'm not a big fan of military-themed romances either - so you're definitely not alone. I will say while the miltary aspect is somewhat important to the characterizations here (the hero and the dead husband), I never felt like I was slogging through a bunch of "military stuff" to get to the romance.

nath said...

Definitively sounds good, Wendy :) We need books like this, just to mix it up.