Beneath Devil’s Bridge by Loreth Anne White

beneath devil's bridge

This title may be purchased from Amazon

True crime podcaster Trinity Scott is chasing breakout success, and her brand-new serial may get her there. Her subject is Clayton Jay Pelley. More than two decades ago, the respected family man and guidance counselor confessed to the brutal murder of teenage student Leena Rai. But why he killed her has always been a mystery.

In a series of exclusive interviews from prison, Clayton discloses to Trinity the truth about what happened that night beneath Devil’s Bridge. It’s not what anyone in the Pacific Northwest town of Twin Falls expects. Clayton says he didn’t do it. Was he lying then? Or now?

As her listeners increase and ratings skyrocket, Trinity is missing a key player in the story: Rachel Walczak, the retired detective who exposed Pelley’s twisted urges and put him behind bars. She’s not interested in playing Clayton’s game—until Trinity digs deeper and the podcast’s reverb widens. Then Rachel begins to question everything she thinks she knows about the past.

With each of Clayton’s teasing reveals, one thing is clear: he’s not the only one in Twin Falls with a secret.

Rating: A

Beneath Devil’s Bridge is a tense, tightly-plotted and superbly-executed mystery that is very loosely based on a real-life murder that happened in British Columbia some twenty-four years ago.   It’s a compelling, absorbing read that takes a look at the impact of a brutal crime on a small, close-knit community and asks some challenging questions about the lengths to which people will go to protect those they love or about what we are capable of doing to our fellow human beings.  It comprises some difficult subjects, so potential readers should be aware that the murder itself is quite gruesome (although we don’t witness it directly) and the story contains references to bullying, grooming, paedophilia, underage sex and rape.

If it takes a village to raise a child, does it also take a village to kill one?

Fourteen-year-old Leena Rai is an outsider.  Socially awkward and plain, all she really wants is what any teenage girl wants – to belong, to have friends, to be happy.  Sadly, she has none of those things.  She’s bullied relentlessly at school and on a cold November night she is brutally murdered when she’s on her way home from a “secret” bonfire festival in the mountains north of the small town of Twin Falls in the Pacific Northwest.

When her battered body is pulled out of the river a few days later, Detective Rachel Walczak is assigned to the case, along with Sergeant Luke O’Leary, a homicide detective from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – who will bring an outside perspective (and the considerable resources of the RCMP) to the investigation.  But as Rachel and Luke start interviewing Leena’s schoolmates, and others who were at the bonfire, they immediately get the sense that something is being carefully hidden from them; the stories they’re hearing are too pat, as though they’ve been co-ordinated… but by whom? And why?  This all becomes moot however, when someone – a teacher and guidance counsellor at Twin Falls Secondary school – confesses to the crime.  The case is closed,  there’s no trial and Clayton Jay Pelley goes to prison.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Unsuspecting Target (Hard Core Justice #5) by Juno Rushdan

unsuspecting target uk

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Can they right past wrongs to fix their future?

Ten years ago, Jagger Carr saved Wendy Haas’s life. Circumstances pulled them apart soon after, but when an assassin targets her at a Manhattan charity gala, Wendy has no choice but to trust Jagger, who’s now deep undercover. Not even their warring feelings can stop desire from reigniting. But the vengeful cartel gunning for them could destroy any hope for a second chance.

Rating: B-

One of my fellow reviewers at All About Romance has favourably reviewed a few of Juno Rushdan’s books, and as I’m also a fan of romantic suspense, I was keen to try something of hers.  I picked up Ms. Rushdan’s latest release Unsuspecting Target for review and enjoyed it; it’s a quick and easy read featuring likeable characters that packs a lot of action into a relatively small page-count.  It’s the final book in her Hard Core Justice; series, but it worked fine as a standalone; I haven’t read any of the earlier books and didn’t feel the lack – the author incorporates the necessary backstory skilfully and without lots of tiresome info-dumps.

The last person Wendy Haas expects to see at a high-profile New York gala to promote youth literacy is her former lover, Jagger Carr – especially as he’s ten years into serving a fifteen year prison sentence for murder.   A decade earlier, she and Jagger had been very much in love and planning a future together, until one fateful night when saving her life had cost Jagger his freedom.  Wendy has worked hard to rebuild her life and has made a successful career in PR; the last thing she needs is Jagger reappearing and ruining it all.

While he was in prison, Jagger became involved with the powerful Los Chacales cartel in order to survive, and after they broke him out three years back, he has risen to become one of the Brethren, the cartel’s unit of elite contract killers. He’s done whatever he’s had to do to survive, but when a hit is put out on Wendy Hass, he knows he’s got to save her at any cost – and that in doing so, he’s going up against the entire cartel and its leader, Emilio Vargas.

The first third of the book is non-stop action, after Jagger ‘interrupts’ one of the Brethren who has cornered Wendy, and the two of them hightail it out of the gala and start to make their way out of the city.  It’s a breathlessly exciting sequence of high-octane chases and last-minute, daring escapes and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

All Fired Up (Ashes & Dust #1) by Jenn Burke

all fired up burke

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Paranormals are dying. All over the city, with no explanation and only one thing in common: their magic is missing.

Vampire and private investigator Evan Fournier isn’t supposed to be taking on paranormal cases, but when the murderer hits close to home, he agrees to look into it. The last thing he expects is to become a target himself—and then to become irrevocably bonded to the man who just tried to kill him.

With his memory gone and his soul bonded to a stranger, former firefighter Colin Zhang wants to be anywhere else. He doesn’t have a damn clue why he just tried to kill Evan, and he didn’t even know about magic until just now. The sooner he can get back to his real life, the better.

But every time either of them tries to leave, pure agony stops them short. Forced to work with Evan or suffer the consequences, Colin must excavate the secrets buried in his missing memories while battling two rising threats: the conspiracy behind the murder, and his mutual attraction to the bond mate he never wanted.

Rating: B+

Note: There are spoilers for the Not Dead Yet series in this review.

I really enjoyed Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet series of paranormal romances and was delighted when I learned she was planning a follow-up series which would focus on ‘baby vamp’ Evan Fournier.  Evan was a troubled young man living with depression (and not doing so well) when we first met him and circumstances led to his becoming  the one of the members of the found family formed by Wes and Hudson over the course of the trilogy.  All Fired Up – book one in the Ashes & Dust series – opens around five years later and finds Evan – older, wiser and more confident in himself – in a much better place, having worked hard to get his life on track and learned to ask for and accept help when he needs it.

Evan works as a private investigator for Caballero Investigations, the firm set up by Wes and Hudson in Give Up the Ghost.  Although all the employees are paranormals, the firm takes ‘regular’ cases as well as ones involving the supernatural, but when Wes and Hudson have to travel to London at short notice due to a family emergency, Hud makes it very clear to Evan that under no circumstances is he to take on any paranormal investigations while they’re gone.  Not because he doesn’t trust Evan or to handle them, but because those are the cases that tend to go sideways quickly – and Hud is a bit (!) of a control freak and very protective of those he cares about.

But when Dr. Anika Kozlow – a witch and Evan’s doctor and therapist – comes to see him, clearly very upset, and talking about a patient who recently died under suspicious circumstances, Evan knows he won’t be able to sit this one out.  Called to visit a patient who had recently returned from a retreat for paranormals, Dr. Kozlow was shocked to see a literal shell of the woman she’d known.

“When I saw her, she wasn’t there.  I mean, her body was.  She was sitting in the recliner, breathing, he eyes open, but they were… empty.”

A diagnostic spell confirmed Anika’s suspicions:

“When I said she was empty, I wasn’t exaggerating.  Her magic – her soul – was gone.”

And she’s since discovered that several of the patients she referred to the retreat have died in the same way.

Evan decides to check himself into the Rising Sun Retreat to see what he can find out.  Everything seems above board at first; the location is great, the staff are kind and he falls in with a group of friendly fellow patients who show him the ropes.  But there’s one staff member who makes him feel uneasy, a man known only as Red – because of the red tips in his hair (which, incidentally, are nowhere to be seen on the front cover!) – a member of staff so quiet, controlled and emotionless that he’s almost robotic.  He’s pretty creepy and Evan is suspicious – but before he can find out much more, he comes dangerously close to becoming the soul-sucker’s next victim.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Hate Project (The Love Study #2) by Kris Ripper

the hate project

This title may be purchased from Amazon

This arrangement is either exactly what they need–or a total disaster

Oscar is a grouch.

That’s a well-established fact among his tight-knit friend group, and they love him anyway.

Jack is an ass.

Jack, who’s always ready with a sly insult, who can’t have a conversation without arguing, and who Oscar may or may not have hooked up with on a strict no-commitment, one-time-only basis. Even if it was extremely hot.

Together, they’re a bickering, combative mess.

When Oscar is fired (answering phones is not for the anxiety-ridden), he somehow ends up working for Jack. Maybe while cleaning out Jack’s grandmother’s house they can stop fighting long enough to turn a one-night stand into a frenemies-with-benefits situation.

The house is an archaeological dig of love and dysfunction, and while Oscar thought he was prepared, he wasn’t. It’s impossible to delve so deeply into someone’s past without coming to understand them at least a little, but Oscar has boundaries for a reason—even if sometimes Jack makes him want to break them all down.

After all, hating Jack is less of a risk than loving him…

Rating: B

Kris Ripper’s The Hate Project is a warm, quirky and often very funny romance with a difference –  a grumpy/grumpy  pairing – and I enjoyed it a lot.  It’s a well-written mixture of snarky and poignant, and I loved the idiosyncratic and uncompromising voice of PoV character Oscar, whose anxiety and depression are presented in a way that feels very authentic.  But while the book is a romance and there is a strong HFN, the overall balance is a little skewed in favour of Oscar’s navigating through life changes and the idea of being in a relationship, so that Jack – his love interest – feels a little distant and is less easy to know.

We first met the group of friends who term themselves the Marginalised Motherfuckers in last year’s The Love Study. Declan, Mason, Oscar, and Ronnie and Mia (who are a married couple) have known each other since college, but now their number is gradually expanding.  In The Love Study, commitment-phobe Declan met and fell in love with Sydney (the host of a popular You Tube advice show of the same name) so Sydney is now an honourary Motherfucker, as is Jack whom Dec met at work and decided to invite to join them, too.  Jack and Oscar pretty much hated each other on sight and never miss a chance to snipe and snark and bicker, so much so that their friends – not-so-jokingly – tell them to get a room!

Nobody is more surprised than they are when one night – they do.

Oscar has lived with anxiety and depression all his life, but he’s dysfunctionally functional – most of the time.  When he loses his job – even though he hated it – it throws him off an already delicate balance, the thought of having to apply for jobs and potentially interview filling him with dread.  The MFs rally round, throwing him an impromptu lost-your-job party, understanding his need to just be around them rather than interact with them.  Somehow, he and Jack end up leaving the party at the same time and then heading back to Jack’s place; the sex is hot and steamy and, strangely, fun… but things end awkwardly with Jack almost immediately leaping out of bed and hustling Oscar back out to the car.  It’s not that Oscar is interested in anything other than sex anyway, but still… Rude.

A few days later, Oscar is still jobless and not doing so well with the lack of routine or the prospect of job-hunting when Ronnie tells him that Jack has to clear out his grandparents’ house and could do with some help.  All the MFs rally round to lend a hand at the weekend, but It turns out that Jack’s late grandfather was a hoarder (something which Jack is obviously embarrassed about) and the house needs a LOT more clearing out than they can do in a day.  As Oscar needs to earn money while he’s looking for another job and Jack needs help clearing out the house to get it ready to sell and is prepared to pay someone to do it… just like that Oscar has a job.  (And the possibility of turning their one-off into a more regular frenemies-with-benefits situation. Win.)

Oscar has good days and not-so-good days, but he finds himself kind of enjoying the work, and even taking pride in it, thoughtfully organising family papers and going above and beyond in many small ways.  More than that though, it becomes impossible for him to continue to see Jack as simply the brusque, argumentative dickhead he’s always seen him as; going through the contents of the house Jack grew up in, Oscar can’t remain completely detached as he starts to learn more about him and understand him a little.

While Jack is less well-defined than Oscar, the author does a decent job of presenting him to the reader through Oscar’s eyes.  He’s prickly and blunt and sometimes downright rude – but there’s a real sense that it’s a cover for what’s really underneath.  It’s clear that he has a lot of emotional baggage associated with the house, stuff Oscar doesn’t know about (none of the MFs do), which brings home to Oscar just how little any of them know about Jack.  The introduction of Jack’s feisty, no-nonsense grandmother to the mix serves to shed some more light on Jack’s past and on the guy he really is beneath his armour of sarcasm; he obviously adores Evelyn but is determined not to show it.  Evelyn’s immediate inclusion of Oscar into their family group throws Oscar off balance slightly, but he soon finds himself enjoying her company – and being with Jack outside the bedroom, seeing another, slightly less jerkish side of him… well, that isn’t so bad either.

The days and weeks pass, and although neither had intended it, Oscar and Jack end up spending time together hanging out at the end of the day, eating together – and sometimes with Evelyn – and Oscar comes to realise, horror of horrors, that he might… actually… like Jack.  And that isn’t something he bargained for or ever wanted.

There’s a lot to like about The Hate Project.  Oscar is a terrific character with a very distinctive voice, and I really appreciated that the author doesn’t shy away from showing all the complications and contradictions that go along with severe anxiety and how hard Oscar has to fight some days just to open his eyes in the morning.  I enjoyed his inner dialogue – which, admittedly, does meander a bit too much at times – and the self-awareness and raw honesty that show us so clearly how he sees himself.  I also loved the way that his friends offer him such unwavering and unconditional support, how they respect his needs and wishes but are prepared to provide tough love if needed.

But because Oscar is such a brilliantly written, vividly realised character, his voice dominates the novel to such an extent that the romance feels unbalanced.  I appreciated that, even when Jack isn’t present physically, he’s never far from Oscar’s thoughts, but he is nonetheless a little overshadowed by Oscar, and his issues – dating back to childhood – are strongly hinted at but never addressed in depth.

Despite that however, The Hate Project hooked me in from the first paragraph and kept me there until the last.  The terrific banter, Oscar’s dark sense of humour, the diversity of the cast and the author’s frank and unsentimental treatment of mental health issues might not add up to a perfect read, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for something a bit different to the norm.

What the Devil Knows (Sebastian St. Cyr #16) by C.S. Harris

what the devil knows

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It’s October 1814. The war with France is finally over, Europe’s diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together, and London finds itself in the grip of a series of terrifying murders eerily similar to the shocking Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.

In 1811, two entire families were brutally murdered in their homes. A suspect – a young Irish seaman named John Murphy – was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Murphy hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way, suddenly everyone is talking about the heinous crimes again, and the city is paralysed with terror. Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Has a vicious serial killer decided it’s time to kill again?

Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym’s colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Murphy was not the real killer. Which begs the question – who was?

Rating: B+

This sixteenth book in C.S Harris’ series of historical mysteries featuring aristocratic sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr is an entertaining page-turner which sees Sebastian investigating a number of particularly gruesome murders in and around London’s East End. As always with these books, the historical background is fascinating and incredibly well researched (it’s always worth reading the Author’s Note at the end; not only will you learn new things, you’ll learn just how skilfully Ms. Harris incorporates actual historical events into her stories), and the mystery is well-paced, with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings.

At the beginning of What the Devil Knows, Sebastian is called in by his friend, Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy, to help investigate the murder of Shadwell magistrate, Sir Edwin Pym, whose body was found in a dank alleyway in Wapping with his head smashed in and his throat slit from ear to ear. Sebastian and Lovejoy are immediately reminded of the brutal slayings, three years earlier, of two families known as the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. A linen draper and a publican were the seemingly unconnected victims and although a man was arrested for the crime, he was found hanged in his prison cell the day before his trial and the investigation was closed. There were whispers at the time that the magistrates – of whom Pym was one – were too eager to blame a conveniently dead man, but the murders ceased and eventually, the gossip died down. But Pym and another man – a seaman named Hugo Reeves – who was murdered some ten days earlier, were killed in exactly the same way as the Ratcliffe Highway victims – and Sebastian and Lovejoy can’t help but wonder if they are the work of the copyist or an accomplice… or if they’re the work of the person responsible for the earlier murders, who managed to escape justice three years earlier.

After making a few inquiries and observations of his own, it doesn’t take long for Sebastian to become fairly sure that John Williams, the supposed culprit who hanged himself, was not only not guilty of the original murders, but that he was framed for them, and when another magistrate – Nathan Cockerwell from Middlesex – is found dead just days later, his head bashed in and his throat slit, Sebastian is more sure than ever that the two sets of murders are somehow connected. Discovering that both Pym and Cockerwell were part of an alliance between corrupt government officials and some of the city’s richest, most powerful brewers, who forced public houses to purchase their beer and spirits from them and would put them out of business if they refused, Sebastian slowly starts to piece together a bigger picture and to draw together the links between the three-year-old murders and the more recent deaths of Reeves, Pym and Cockerwell.

The story that follows is fast-moving and satisfyingly complex, as Sebastian moves from suspect to suspect, many of whom have much to hide and are rarely forthcoming.  As always, the author skilfully incorporates some of the lesser-known histories of London into her plot, and the way Sebastian pieces together all the snippets of information – and weeds out the lies he’s fed along the way – is superbly done, with lots of character interaction, investigative pondering and insightful observation about the huge disparity that existed between the haves and have-nots, and the injustices perpetrated on the lower echelons of society by greedy public officials and institutions that were supposed to exist for the betterment of all, not just a self-serving few.

Sebastian continues to be a compelling, sympathetic character, and one of the things I so enjoy about this series is watching him grow and change from the hot-headed younger man who was careless of his own safety to a devoted husband and father, a truly and deeply compassionate man who believes strongly in justice and in using his position and abilities to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.  His wife, Hero – daughter of the devious, formidable Lord Jarvis  – shares his interests and convictions; she is an investigative journalist who writes about what life is really like for London’s poor and less fortunate, and I love how in-tune they are and the way they are each other’s staunch support.  She has a relatively small part to play in this story, but her discoveries pack a considerable emotional punch as she interacts with young women making a living on the streets, telling stories about their lives and experiences that are far from pretty.

As with the last few books in the series, the standalone mystery takes precedence,  so a reader new to it could jump in here and not feel as though they’re missing anything.  This has been the case with the last couple of books; the long-running storylines concerning Sebastian’s search for the truth about his heritage – and particularly his search for his mother – his relationship with his father, and the machinations of the Machiavellian Lord Jarvis are present, but are simmering along on the back-burner.  Sebastian learns that his mother has been living in Paris, but that she’s recently removed to Vienna – where European heads of state are gathering to put “the world back together after the defeat of that Corsican upstart” – under an assumed name, but has no idea why; Jarvis’ relationship with the cunning and mercenary Victoria Hart-Davis (were ever two villainous characters so well suited to each other?) progresses, and changes are afoot in Sebastian’s household.  As the timeline of the series inches closer to Napoléon’s escape from Elba and to Waterloo, I become more and more intrigued as to what lies in store for Sebastian – and I certainly plan on sticking around to find out.

What the Devil Knows is another strong instalment in the Sebastian St. Cyr series.  The mystery is gripping and tightly-written and the author’s descriptive prose is – as always – so wonderfully evocative that the reader can feel the dampness of the creeping fog , see the crowded tap-rooms and hear the gulls screeching overhead around the docks.  Why is it not a DIK?  Simply because I’m starting to feel the need for a bit more movement on issues surrounding Sebastian’s history; this seems to have been pushed aside in the last few books in the series – and while I can sort of understand the author wishing to keep this particular mystery going a bit longer as she obviously has more stories to tell, cynical me can’t help but see the drawing out of it as a delaying tactic.

But don’t let that put you off; this series is one of the best (if not THE best) historical mystery series around, and What the Devil Knows is another fantastic read.

The Final Dawn (Atrophy #5) by Jess Anastasi

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Rian Sherron is a lot of things. Captain of the spaceship Imojenna. Ex-war hero. Ex-assassin. For years, he’s traveled from one end of the galaxy to the other, both trying to escape his demons and get revenge on the shape-shifting aliens responsible for his slow demise into hell.

That all changed the day Rian rescued an Arynian priestess from slave traders. Ella Kinton is everything Rian both fears and admires. Ella is everything he never let himself admit he wanted. Together, they must face a harrowing choice—come together and defeat the Reidar, or fall apart, leaving the universe in total chaos.

Rating: B+

The Final Dawn is the fifth and final book in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series, featuring the motley crew of the starship Imojenna under the command of the super badass, super enigmatic Rian Sherron.  This story has been a long time coming; book four, Entropy, was published in 2018 and I confess I’d been worried that maybe the series was going to remain unfinished – so I was jumping for joy when I learned that wasn’t the case, and that The Final Dawn would – at last – complete the series and deliver a story for Rian and Ella, the Arynian High Priestess he rescued way back in book one.

The Atrophy books feature an overarching plotline and an ensemble cast, so it’s advisable to have read at least some of the preceding titles in order to gain a full understanding of the plotlines and characters.  There will be spoilers for the other books in this review.

A quick bit of background.  An alien race of shapeshifters called the Reidar is slowly infiltrating every aspect of human civilisation and replacing key members of Earth’s industry and government with their own. They’ve so far managed to do this without attracting attention, but Rian – who was captured and experimented on by the Reidar before managing to escape – knows what’s going on and is determined to expose the alien plot and preferably rid the universe of as many Reidar as possible along the way.   Each of the books in the series has featured its own self-contained storyline running alongside the main plot as well as a romance that reached an HFN/HEA by the end, but in The Final Dawn, the focus is firmly on the fight against the Reidar and the romance between Rian and Ella who have been striking sparks off each other since they met.  Their relationship became considerably more complicated in book four, Entropy, when they were mentally and emotionally connected in an entropic entanglement (which also includes former commando Varean Donnelly – and in case you’re wondering,  there are no kinky mind-meld-threesomes here!), and when The Final Dawn opens, Rian is still struggling to adjust to the fact that he and Ella are inextricably bound. After years of distancing himself from everything and everyone, suddenly not being alone in his head, heart and soul is profoundly disturbing.  Rian has been unsettled by Ella’s telepathic abilities and her cool, detached demeanour since they first met and has gone out of his way to interact with her as little as possible, trying to ignore his inconvenient attraction to her.

When the book proper opens, the rag-taggle crew of the Imojenna has been laying low in relative safety on the planet of Tripoli while Rian has spent the last eight months on the homeworld of the Mar’keish, a race with similar telepathic abilities to the Arynians, learning about and trying to understand the entanglement and the abilities he has developed as a result of being mentally linked to Ella. He’s also spent that time thinking up inventive ways to kill Ella’s brother Isiah Kinton; he’s sure Kinton has harmed his sister in some way and wants to find out what he did and then make the man pay.

Mar’keish intelligence learns of a likely Reidar gathering at an upcoming interplanetary summit, and if, as suspected, they are getting ready to enact the final stage of their universal domination plan, Rian wants to be part of the Mar’keish delegation.  There’s just one snag – Isiah Kinton is going to be there, and word is he’s become extremely interested in Rian over the past few months.

“Aw, has he gone all fanboy over my war hero stories?”

“Think less fanboy and more wants-to-kill-you-on-sight for abducting his sister.”

“If we’re being technical, I accidentally rescued her.  He should be thanking me.”

“If by ‘thanks’, you mean he wants to see you arrested and punished, then he’s already way ahead of you.”

Kinton’s presence at the summit will make things difficult but not impossible – Rian will simply have to keep a low profile. (Pfft, right.)

In the meantime, Rian’s crew has learned of his intention to head into Reidar Central, and, with the exception of Ella and Zahli (Rian’s sister), who remain on Tripoli in order to keep Ella safe from her brother,  they all head out on the Ebony Winter (Qae’s ship) to provide back-up.  Needless to say, things don’t quite go to plan (an understatement) and our heroes quickly find themselves up to their necks in trouble (as per usual).

I won’t say more about the plot, which is fast-paced with an intriguing storyline and some terrific set-pieces, which are so vividly written that they played out like mini-movies in my head.  There’s a strongly written secondary cast – most of whom you’ll have already met if you’ve read the other books – and I continue to enjoy the humour – Qae’s smart-mouthed snark and his interactions with Rian are often very funny – the team dynamic, and the found family aspect of the stories.

Rian Sherron has been a pivotal figure throughout the series; he’s Atrophy’s Kirk/Mal/Picard and as such has had a major role in all the other books.  His romance with Ella takes a bit of a weird turn here, with lots of psychic/mental … stuff (sex on the astral plane?!) – and I never really understood why the entropic entanglement involved a third-person.  In her author’s note, Ms. Anastasi explains that she had originally planned at least one more book in the series, but that “due to circumstances” that hasn’t happened – perhaps the entanglement plotline was meant to have been further developed.  But still, the author makes good use of it at certain key moments, and the chemistry between Rian and Ella is as strong as ever, so I can deal with a bit of weird.

The author has dropped hints throughout the series that Ella is much more powerful than she lets on and that her abilities could be used in a truly devastating way should she ever choose – or be forced – to use them in that capacity.  Here, we learn more about what those powers are, although I have to say that this is another aspect of the book that didn’t quite make sense to me.  Maybe it’s me and I missed something, but I wasn’t wholly convinced by Ella’s sudden transformation near the end.

But that and a few other minor inconsistencies aside, I enjoyed The Final Dawn and would recommend the Atrophy series to fans of sci-fi/space opera and anyone who enjoys a rollicking, action-packed, high-stakes adventure yarn.

Note: The other books in this series have been re-titled and re-covered since this review was first posted. (Frankly, I don’t think it’s for the better.)

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Daisy Patel is a software engineer who understands lists and logic better than bosses and boyfriends. With her life all planned out, and no interest in love, the one thing she can’t give her family is the marriage they expect. Left with few options, she asks her childhood crush to be her decoy fiancé.

Liam Murphy is a venture capitalist with something to prove. When he learns that his inheritance is contingent on being married, he realizes his best friend’s little sister has the perfect solution to his problem. A marriage of convenience will get Daisy’s matchmaking relatives off her back and fulfill the terms of his late grandfather’s will. If only he hadn’t broken her tender teenage heart nine years ago…

Sparks fly when Daisy and Liam go on a series of dates to legitimize their fake relationship. Too late, they realize that very little is convenient about their arrangement. History and chemistry aren’t about to follow the rules of this engagement.

Rating: C+

The Dating Plan is Sara Desai’s follow-up to last year’s The Marriage Game, and like its predecessor, it’s an enjoyable – if predictable – rom-com, this time a second-chance romance/fake-relationship story.  But – also like its predecessor – it falls into some storytelling traps and incorporates some seriously overused tropes; and although I had fun (mostly) reading it, it’s not what I’d call a memorable read, and I could only assign it a middling grade.

When we meet Daisy Patel in the opening chapter, she’s in the ladies bathroom at a hotel where she’s attending a conference, trying to obtain some sanitary towels from the dispenser while simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that her most recent ex- and her most recent ex-boss are nosily sucking face in one of the stalls.  We know immediately that Daisy Is Not Like Other Girls; she describes herself as a neurotic software engineer who lives by plans and quantifiable results, a woman who wields fashion like a shield, and whose tendency to blurt out whatever was on her mind had gotten her into trouble too many times.  And just in case we didn’t get the message, she carries a tote bag with Marvel characters on it and wears Avengers underwear.

Anyway.

She’s a mega-intelligent software designer, and her current employer is Organicare, a small company that is developing sustainable, organic menstrual products, and Daisy has accompanied her boss to this conference, where they’re due to make a pitch to a group of venture capitalists in order to secure more funding.  She’s on her way back to the meeting room when she hears her name being called by a familiar voice; Salena Auntie (one of her four busybody, matchmaking but well-meaning aunts) has, through sheer (not) coincidence tracked Daisy down at the conference hotel and has a young man in tow, a friend’s son who is looking for a wife.  As Daisy makes her escape – carrying many more sanitary towels than she actually needs – she (literally) bumps into the-one-that-got-away  – Liam Murphy (aka Liam Freaking Bastard Murphy), her teenage crush and the boy who broke her heart ten years before when he stood her up for the Prom.  Needless to say, she’s hated him with a passion ever since. (When she’s not hearing his voice every day or fantasising about him every night, that is.)  I’ll say that again. She’s hated him for TEN YEARS because he didn’t turn up on Prom night.  Seriously?  It’s not as if he killed her cat or made rabbit stew from her favourite pet! Okay, so younger Daisy was devastated.  But to hold on to that for ten years seems wildly immature.  (And in case you’re wondering, yes we do find out why and yes, he had a good reason.)

To avoid Salena Auntie’s matchmaking scheme, Salena impulsively introduces Liam as her fiancé – and he’s only too delighted to play along.

Liam is in San Francisco to attend his grandfather’s funeral and to oversee the setting up of a new office for the venture capital company he works for, and once that’s done, he’s set to return to New York to take up a partnership.  He doesn’t see his family often and his relationship with his older brother Brendan is strained, to say the least.  Things go from bad to worse when his grandfather’s will is read; traditionally, the family business – a distillery that’s seen better days – has been handed down from father to eldest son, and Brendan is just waiting for that to happen so he can knock the place down and sell the land to provide a cash injection for his own business.  But under the terms of the old man’s will, Liam will inherit the distillery – provided he’s married by his next birthday and remains married for a minimum of one year.  Of course, Brendan is furious and Liam is shocked… and surprised to find that he actually wants to continue his grandfather’s legacy.  But how?  Liam’s birthday is six weeks away, he doesn’t do relationships, and for something like this, he’d have to marry someone who won’t fall in love with him or want to continue with the marriage. In fact, the ideal candidate would be someone who actively hates him.

You guessed it.

Liam and Daisy make a deal.  In return for help finding an investor for Organicare (and because it will get her marriage-minded relatives off her back) Daisy agrees to marry Liam, and in order to sell it to her family, she says they should go on some dates – and even draws up a spreadsheet with dates and times and objectives.  It’s the titular Dating Plan.

I admit that the ‘I’ve-hated-you-for-ten-years’ thing bugged me a lot, but once Liam and Daisy start spending time together and interacting more naturally, I began to enjoy myself a bit more.  There’s considerable warmth and humour in the book, and while Liam comes off as a bit of a dickhead to start with, once Daisy – and we – get to spend some time with him, we see beyond that to the funny, charming and decent, vulnerable guy underneath.  I did, however, have to wonder how someone who spent a few years living on the fringes of a biker gang suddenly became a millionaire venture capitalist.  I liked Daisy’s smarts and snark, but there are contradictions to her character, too; she’s super-intelligent at some times and clueless at others, and she’s an introvert, yet she’s randomly flirty and has had lots of hook-ups.  (I’m not condemning her for them – just suggesting it doesn’t fit with her being introverted.)

There are a lot of secondary characters in the story who are really just window-dressing;  we’ve got the stereotypical marriage-obsessed aunties (four of them!) who come across as almost stalker-ish at times, and the stereotypical Irish family of drinkers, bruisers and brawlers. In places, so much information is randomly thrown out that it seems the author is so desperate to get it out there that it doesn’t matter if it interferes with the flow of the storytelling, and some of the plot-points just don’t make sense.  (Such as – how did Liam’s grandfather know he was going to die and leave enough time for Liam to get married?  Suppose he’d died the day before Liam’s next birthday? ) Fortunately, the romance itself is cute and banter-y and the sex scenes are well-written, but there’s little tension or relationship development as it’s very clear Daisy and Liam are into each other right from the start (despite Daisy’s professed hatred of Liam – which we hear about constantly!).

But despite that, I was enjoying a bit of sexy fluff until the last quarter of the book happened and ruined it.  One of the issues Liam has carried with him since childhood is a sense of unworthiness; he never went to college and doesn’t have a degree (although it’s a point of pride that he’ll be the only partner at his firm without an MBA), so of course, the author has to trot out the I-am-not-worthy-and-I-am-leaving-you-for-your-own-good trope – and I wanted to spit.  In the old days (pre-Kindle) it might even have been a wallbanger moment.

The Dating Plan is light and frothy, but ultimately lacks substance and consistency.  While we can all say of a romance, ‘it’s nothing I haven’t read before’, the best authors take those old, well-used tropes and refashion them into something new. Sadly, that doesn’t happen here.

Drown Her Sorrows (Bree Taggert #3) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Sheriff Bree Taggert discovers the body of a young woman floating near the bank of the Scarlet River, a note in her abandoned car suggests suicide. The autopsy reveals a different story. Holly Thorpe was dead long before she dropped off the bridge and hit the water.

As Bree and her investigator Matt Flynn delve into the case, secrets in Holly’s personal life complicate their efforts to solve the murder. Holly left behind a volatile marriage, an equally divisive relationship with her sister, and an employer whose intimate involvement with Holly was no secret. Each one has a motive for murder.

When Holly’s sister is terrorized by a stalker’s sick prank, and the prime suspect turns up dead, everything Bree was sure of is upended and her case goes off the rails. When the killer strikes close to home, Bree and Matt must race to solve the murders before one of their own becomes the next victim.

Rating: B

This third book in Melinda Leigh’s series of romantic suspense novels featuring former detective-turned-Sheriff Bree Taggert is another entertaining read that boasts a cleverly constructed mystery and a set of strongly-defined characters.  Bree is becoming more settled into her new life and responsibilities, and she’s trying to deal with some of her long-standing trust issues; I like the way the author dovetails Bree’s work and home life into her stories. But while the mystery is nice and twisty, I didn’t find it quite as compelling as those in the first two books in the series.

When Drown Her Sorrows opens, Bree is heading home after a long day and is looking forward to eating with her family and reading her young niece Kayla a bedtime story.  She’s in sight of her late sister’s farmhouse when she gets a call from one of her deputies advising her there’s an abandoned car by the river, and although there’s a purse and phone inside, there’s no sign of the driver.  It transpires that the car is registered to Holly Thorpe, a resident of Gray’s Hollow – and it’s been there for around three days.  Holly’s husband says he hasn’t seen Holly since she stormed out after they had a fight three nights earlier, and Bree walks down to the river while waiting for the search and rescue team to arrive.  She’s not gone far along the riverbank when she finds the body of a woman matching Holly’s description.  The presence, in the boot of the car, of a note that says “I can’t anymore.  It’s too hard.”  would seem to point towards Holly’s death being suicide – but the ME’s findings indicate that Holly was dead before she hit the water, and that she died as a result of compression to the neck.  Bree is looking for a murderer.

Former K9 handler Matt Flynn – who was invalided out of the department after he was shot in the line – now works as an investigator and consultant to the sheriff’s department.  He and Bree have been slowly working their way around to exploring the attraction that sparked between them when they first met, and by the time this book opens, they’re in a relationship and have decided to see where things might go.   He and Bree work together very well and I really enjoy their working dynamic;  Bree admits that her focus can be too narrow, and she needs someone like Matt at her back, someone who can see things she might have missed and more than anything, someone she can trust implicitly.

Bree and Matt open their investigation by questioning Holly’s husband; the Thorpe’s marriage was incredibly volatile, with frequent rows that often saw Holly storming out to go and stay with her sister, and their financial situation was precarious owing to their living beyond their means as well as having to pay towards the medical costs for Holly’s mother, who has Stage 4 cancer.  These costs are split with Holly’s sister Shannon, although, as Owen Thorpe sees it, not fairly, given that Shannon lives in a much bigger house and has a much nicer lifestyle than he and Holly did.  More digging reveals that Holly may have been having an affair with her boss at the construction company she worked for, and also that the firm was in serious financial trouble.  Bree and Matt follow up with Holly’s boss, who is obnoxious and uncooperative, which raises all sorts of red flags.  But when he’s gunned down outside his own home shortly after, another avenue of investigation into Holly’s death is closed off – and Bree has to consider the fact that the two murders may be linked.

The mystery is intriguing and the investigation is well-paced with a skilful twist near the end I didn’t see coming until I was on top of it.  Bree is coming into her own and has gained the trust of those around her, especially her chief deputy with whom she had a bit of a rocky relationship for a while.  I like her a lot; she’s hardworking, strong-willed and intuitive, and she’s slowly starting to realise that she can’t go it alone all the time and learning to trust the team she’s building around her.

And then there are Bree’s personal relationships; her past trauma (she was just eight years old when her father shot her mother and then himself; she protected her younger siblings, but grew up apart from them when they went to live with one relative and Bree another) isn’t something she’s dealt with all that well, and growing up apart from her siblings has left a mark, meaning she has to work hard at maintaining personal relationships and learn not to run from them, especially if they could expose her vulnerability.  She learned early on that the only person she could rely on was herself, but she’s trying hard to put the past behind her now, for her own sake and for that of her new found family; her sister’s death has left her guardian to her two children, Luke and Kayla, and has also enabled her to reconnect with her younger brother, Adam.  And then there’s Matt; lovely, solid, dependable (and sexy) Matt, who has Bree’s back without question and who is falling for her, hard. He respects her professionalism and he’s a calming presence, quietly reminding Bree that she’s allowed to be human rather than a full-time hero.  Their relationship is progressing slowly, partly because Bree doesn’t want to be the subject of yet more gossip (she’s had enough of that to last a lifetime), and partly because she’s still adjusting to the massive changes her life has gone through over the past few months.  I enjoy these insights into Bree as a person as much as I enjoy her as investigator, and Ms. Leigh strikes a good balance between the two; the mystery is undoubtedly the main focus of the book, but Bree’s home life is richly detailed, the characters are rounded and the relationships are well-written.

Even though the mystery in Drown Her Sorrows isn’t quite as enthralling as those in previous books, it’s clever and well-written, and I really enjoyed the continuing development of Bree’s character and relationships.  At a pinch, it could probably be read as a standalone, but I’d strongly suggest going back to book one, Cross Her Heart, so as to gain a fuller understanding of Bree and her situation. In any case, Drown Her Sorrows earns a solid recommendation, and fans of the author and the series are sure to find much to enjoy within its pages.

A Rogue to Remember (League of Scoundrels #1) by Emily Sullivan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After enduring five interminable seasons, Lottie Carlisle has had enough of shallow London society, her boring little life, and her uncle Alfred’s meddling. When he demands she accept a proposal by the end of next season or else he will choose a husband for her, she devises a plan: create a scandal shocking enough to make her unmarriageable and spend her spinsterhood far enough away in the countryside where no one will ever recognize her.

Alec Gresham hasn’t seen Lottie since he left his childhood friend without a word five years ago. So he’s not surprised to find her furious when he appears on her doorstep. Especially bearing the news he brings: her uncle is dying, her blasted reputation is still intact, and Lottie must return home. As they make the journey back to her family estate, it becomes increasingly clear that the last five years hasn’t erased their history, nor their explosive chemistry. Can Lottie look past her old heartache and trust Alec, or will his secrets doom their relationship once again?

Rating; B-

This historical romance début from Emily Sullivan shows promise, but despite its good points (likeable characters with great chemistry and well-written love scenes) the book is ultimately derailed by a lack of focus and clear direction, uneven pacing, nonsensical plot points and some poor editing.  That the author’s ability to actually write shines through is what earns A Rogue to Remember book a (very) cautious recommendation – she’s worth checking out, because if those problems can be eliminated, then she could very well become an author to watch.

At twenty-four, Lottie Carlisle has had enough of London Seasons and the marriage mart.  After causing a scandal when she publicly rejected the suitor her uncle favoured (the heir to an almost bankrupt earldom who wanted her fortune), she decided enough was enough and set out to ruin her reputation so as to put herself beyond the pale.  Sent out of the country on a trip to Italy with a battleaxe of a chaperone – and also with a warning from her uncle that she’ll be married to a man of his choosing before the year is out – she gives the chaperone the slip and leaves behind a note saying (or strongly implying) that she’s run off with her Italian lover.  She hasn’t, of course; instead, she poses as a widow and heads for the cottage in the small Tuscan village where her late parents had spent their honeymoon.  She’s leased it for a year and intends to live a quiet but independent life there. (The fact she’s planned to live in Italy without being able to speak more than a few words of Italian bugged me right off the bat.)

Lottie has managed this quiet independent existence for a few months when, out of the blue, she receives a visit from someone she hasn’t seen in years – Alec Gresham, the boy she’d grown up with, and the young man who’d broken her heart when he left England without a word five years earlier.  Alec was her uncle’s ward, and was groomed by him for a career as a spy (Lottie’s uncle Sir Alfred appears to be a mild-mannered eccentric, but is actually a ruthless government spymaster) – even though Alec’s real interest was ancient history and he wanted to pursue an academic life.  Alec and Lottie were both orphans and they had something of an idyllic childhood, growing together as they grew up, and slowly falling in love.  But when Alec asked for permission to marry Lottie, Sir Alfred refused, telling Alec he’d ruin his life if he didn’t leave the country immediately and start working as one of his agents. Between the scandal of his birth and his complete lack of funds, Alec was convinced he could never give Lottie the life she deserved and scurried off with his tail between his legs.

Now, five years later, Alec has been sent to bring Lottie back to England because her uncle is seriously ill and probably dying.  Lottie isn’t happy to see him (even as she can’t deny that even after five years and serious heartbreak she’s still attracted to him) and is even less so to hear that the news of her flight with her imaginary lover has been hushed up and her reputation is still more or less intact. After many argumentative exchanges (all dripping with lust and longing), Lottie agrees to return on condition they stop off in Venice.

The next part of the story is the road-trip (and yes, there’s Only One Bed, accidental (post-bathing) ogling and lots of lusty imaginings – oh, and that one time Lottie can see “the sizeable bulge at the front of his trousers” even though Alec has his back to her. #editingfail.)  But in general, it’s nicely done with some good descriptive prose, and I appreciated the non-English setting.  When Lottie and Alec get to Venice, the author introduces one of Alec’s colleagues for no good reason (other than to signal ‘next hero’, I presume) together with a spy-plot in which Alec is ordered to cozy up to a French widow with connections to a German arms dealer.  There’s a fight to the death (well, almost) and a daring escape, but this subplot doesn’t really go anywhere, and while I suppose it’s intended to show us exactly why Alec is The Best Spy Evah (according to Sir Alfred, he has “the best instincts I’ve ever seen”) – it actually makes him seem rather inept.  And the final chapters, after Lottie returns to England, veer off into melodrama territory, with a dastardly plot to force Lottie into marriage and the introduction of a traitor who has been selling information to the enemy, a last-minute plotline that comes and goes so quickly it might as well have not been there at all.

Lottie and Alec are likeable individually and make a good couple, and the author writes their yearning for each other extremely well. The sexual tension between them is palpable, and the childhood friendship, while only glimpsed a handful of times comes across strongly.  I liked Lottie’s spirit and the way she challenges Alec without being one of those ‘look at how unconventional I am!’ heroines, and while Alec frustrated me at times, he’s a sexy, brooding hero (hello, hot history professor!), a decent man trying to do the right thing by the woman he loves.

I realise I’ve said quite a few negative things here, so you’re probably wondering why I’m giving this book a low-level recommendation.  Well… if you strip away the extraneous spy plot, there’s a decent romance here.  The pacing is uneven – the first half of the book is set-up and there’s too much introspection and not enough interaction – and the aforementioned nonsensical plot points and inconsistencies were annoying.  But it’s clear that Emily Sullivan can write and knows how to tell a story; what she needs to do now is work on honing that skill to sharpen her focus on the romance, incorporate fewer plotlines and weed out those inconsistencies I’ve mentioned.  A Rogue to Remember is a promising début despite its flaws, and I hope Ms. Sullivan is given the time and space to further develop her talent as a writer.

Best Laid Plans (Garnet Run #2) by Roan Parrish

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Charlie Matheson has spent his life taking care of things. When his parents died two days before his eighteenth birthday, he took care of his younger brother, even though that meant putting his own dreams on hold. He took care of his father’s hardware store, building it into something known several towns over. He took care of the cat he found in the woods…so now he has a cat.

When a stranger with epic tattoos and a glare to match starts coming into Matheson’s Hardware, buying things seemingly at random and lugging them off in a car so beat-up Charlie feels bad for it, his instinct is to help. When the man comes in for the fifth time in a week, Charlie can’t resist intervening.

Rye Janssen has spent his life breaking things. Promises. His parents’ hearts. Leases. He isn’t used to people wanting to put things back together—not the crumbling house he just inherited, not his future and certainly not him. But the longer he stays in Garnet Run, the more he can see himself belonging there. And the more time he spends with Charlie, the more he can see himself falling asleep in Charlie’s arms…and waking up in them.

Is this what it feels like to have a home—and someone to share it with?

Rating: C

I enjoyed the previous book in this series, and was pleased when I learned that big-hearted, slightly awkward Charlie Matheson would be getting a story.  Better Than People was warm and lovely, with a well-developed romance and well-rounded characters, and I’d hoped for more of the same here – but while there are glimpses of that warmth and loveliness, there’s not enough to hide the fact that the characterisation is sketchy and the plot is practically non-existent.  There are lots of sweet moments between the two leads and I liked certain aspects of their relationship, but the whole thing is patchy and not on a par with the other books I’ve read/listened to by this author.

Best Laid Plans opens as Rye Janssen, unemployed and recently homeless, is driving from Seattle to Wyoming. He’d been couch-surfing with friends since he was evicted from his apartment, and when he got a phone call, completely out of the blue, from a lawyer telling him he’d inherited a house from a grandfather he’d never met, Rye thought must be a prank.  But he soon realises it isn’t, and although it means leaving the only place he’s ever really called home, he packs up his few belongings (the most precious of which is his cat, Marmot) gets in his hunk-o-junk car, and off he goes.  When he finally arrives, tired after a long drive, the misgivings he’d been harbouring about leaving Seattle  come back in full force; the house is in such a terrible state of disrepair, it’s a wonder it’s still standing.

But turning around and going back to Seattle just isn’t an option, so Rye decides to fix up the house – somehow – and the following day (and after looking up some ‘how-to’ videos on You Tube) drives to the hardware store in Garnet Run to buy what he needs.

Charlie Matheson (brother of Jack from Better Than People) is one of life’s natural caretakers and truly does love to help people.  When Rye first turns up in the store, Charlie is immediately struck by just how gorgeous he is; although as he soon discovers, the man’s prickly, standoffish manner doesn’t match his swoonworthy looks.  He’s itching to help because that’s kind of what Charlie does, but he’s also really concerned for Rye’s safety.  After a few days of watching Rye come and go with a new mountain of purchases each time, Charlie finally manages to get him to agree to let him take a look around the place. It’s an uphill struggle; Rye doesn’t trust easily and has become so used to doing everything for himself that he finds it hard to let go and accept help.  But eventually he comes to see that Charlie really does want to help for no other reason than that he… wants to help, and from there, their friendship starts to take off.

The book gets off to a good start, but things start to derail not long afterwards. Before long, I was scratching my head asking myself how an adult with any pretension to common sense could think it would be possible to fix up a house in the state described a) on his own and b) at minimal cost.  We’re told Rye is broke, so how does he buy all the stuff from Charlie’s store?   But basically, after Rye has got over his scowly-leave-me-alone phase as far as Charlie and accepting help are concerned, it’s pretty much plain sailing. Rye gets a bank loan with spectacular ease. The renovations go well.  Rye (who has temporarily moved into Charlie’s place) and Charlie become a couple with ease, too, falling into a relationship without there being any real consideration given to the massive power imbalance of Charlie supporting Rye financially.

Charlie is a big teddy-bear with anxiety issues who genuinely likes helping people, but his life has been far from easy.  Probably the best thing about the book is the way the author explores the effect being burdened with huge responsibilities at a young age can have on a person.  My heart really hurt for Charlie when the full extent of what his life had been and what he’d given up and missed out on became apparent; that he’d had to become an adult and a parent when he was still grieving and was little more than a child himself, and how he wasn’t able to experience young adulthood – college, dating, finding out about yourself – in the way that most of his contemporaries did.  I liked Charlie’s relationship with Jack and how it changed  – even though it took Rye saying some rather harsh home-truths to get there.

As I said at the beginning, the romance is underdeveloped.  I couldn’t quite see what Rye and Charlie saw in each other beyond their obvious physical attraction to one another, and they didn’t seem particularly sexually compatible either. Apart from some teenaged fumbling years ago, Charlie has never had sex or been in a relationship and has no idea how to go about it;  so it’s up to Rye to take the lead there, which he does, while paying careful attention to Charlie’s wants and needs, which is all well and good. But the sex scenes, while steamy enough, sort of appear out of nowhere, and I was surprised at the direction they took considering Charlie’s inexperience. (YMMV of course).  And the other big problem overall is that there is practically zero conflict in the book.  Rye and Charlie have a small fight in the latter part of the novel that is sorted out a few pages later – which might be how it sometimes goes in life, but it makes for a rather dull romance novel.

And then there’s what Rye decides to do with his house, as he’s going to live with Charlie for good. This veers into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to know, then look away now.

He decides to turn it into a cat shelter. Now, I LUURVE cats – I am absolutely a cat person –  but even the presence of a gorgeous Maine Coon (*sigh*) and cute, shoulder-perching moggy didn’t mean that I wanted to read several chapters (the last quarter of the book, give or take) about building and opening a cat shelter.

I had started to feel, earlier on, that there wasn’t enough substance to the story in this one to fill a full-length book, and that just confirmed it.

I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did, and the parts I did like just couldn’t make up for the lacklustre plot and thin characterisation. Sadly, Best Laid Plans is a miss, which saddens me, because I’m a fan of Roan Parrish’s work.  I’ll just have to hope for better next time.