Cross Her Heart (Bree Taggert #1) by Melinda Leigh

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For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide… Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

Rating: B+

Bestselling author Melinda Leigh introduces readers to Detective Bree Taggert in Cross Her Heart, the first book in her new series of romantic suspense novels.  It’s an excellent start, a solid, intriguing and well-paced mystery that introduces and starts fleshing out the central characters and the relationships between them at the same time as it presents a mystery that is very personal for Bree, whose tragic past is brought abruptly back to her in the worst possible way.

The book opens on a harrowing scene taking place at eight-year-old Bree’s home in Grey’s Hollow in upstate New York.  She is desperate to protect her younger siblings – Erin and baby Adam – from their violent, abusive father, as he rages at and beats their mother. Bree has managed to call the police and to keep herself and her brother and sister safe, although when the police arrive, it’s too late for their mother – and their father then turns the gun he used to shoot her on himself.

While Adam and Erin were taken in and brought up by their grandmother, Bree, who was something of a handful, was brought up by a stern cousin in Philadelphia. Looking back, Bree can see that their childhood separation has had a negative effect on their adult relationship; they’re not close, and although Erin continues to live in Grey’s Hollow, Bree has rarely been able to get past her issues to visit there, so Erin and her two kids visit Philly once a year instead.  When we meet Bree again, she- now a homicide detective with the Philadelphia PD – and her soon-to-retire partner, Dana Romano,  have just chased down a suspect when Bree picks up a panicked message from Erin saying she’s in trouble, but when she calls back, only gets voicemail.  Worried because Erin is the head down, go to work, raise her kids sort who’s never in trouble, and still unable to contact her, Bree heads to Grey ‘s Hollow – and her fears for Erin only ratchet up when she arrives at her sister’s house to see two sheriff’s department vehicles parked outside.  Something is very, very wrong.

Erin has been killed, and the chief deputy explains that their main suspect is her estranged husband, Justin, who is currently missing.  Erin’s body was found by Justin’s friend, Matt Flynn, a former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler, who was at the house to collect Justin to take him to his Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  Drugs were the cause of Justin and Erin’s split; he became addicted to pain meds following a car accident, and she didn’t want him around her kids while he was using.  But they were still seeing each other and intended to work things out, and Justin has been trying, with Matt’s help and support, to get clean.

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

Murder at Pirate’s Cove (Secrets & Scrabble #1) by Josh Lanyon

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Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.

Rating: B

Murder at Pirate’s Cove is the first book in a new series of cozy mysteries by Josh Lanyon – a kind of Adrien English meets Jessica Fletcher if you will! All the ingredients of the genre are there – a small village community, eccentric characters, dastardly doings and an intrepid hero; in this case one who ends up at the wrong end of a murder investigation!

Screenwriter Ellery Page left New York and his cheating boyfriend for the small Rhode Island resort town of Pirate’s Cove when he inherited a bequest from his great-great-great aunt Eudora. That bequest consisted of the town’s mystery bookshop, Crow’s Nest, and a rambling (and ramshackle) late-Victorian era house just outside town, and Ellery, feeling the need to make a change, has thrown himself into running the shop and renovating the house. He likes Pirate’s Cove, although he’s still something of an outsider, and is determined to make a go of things there… although three months in, he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to afford to stay if business doesn’t start to pick up soon.

Walking back to the shop from the pub late one evening, Ellery is surprised to see the lights are on – and even more surprised to find a dead body – dressed in a pirate costume – lying on the floor. Trevor Maples – a local property developer who was pressuring Ellery to sell Crow’s Nest – was a nasty piece of work, and the fact that he and Ellery were overheard in an altercation on the day Maples died means things don’t look too good for our hero. When the chief of police, Jack Carson (a former LAPD Homicide detective) makes it clear that Ellery is currently the number one suspect, Ellery decides that if the police aren’t looking for the real killer, then he’ll have to find something to persuade them to look elsewhere – and maybe even prove his own innocence. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that someone is actively trying to frame Ellery for the murders – but who, and why?

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

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (Big Bad Wolf #4) by Charlie Adhara

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Agent Cooper Dayton and his partner, Oliver Park, are going undercover—at a retreat for couples who need counseling. They do say the best cover story is one that’s close to the truth…

Agent Cooper Dayton is almost relieved to get a phone call from his former boss at the Bureau of Special Investigations. It means a temporary reprieve from tensions created by house hunting with Oliver Park, his partner both in work and in life. Living together in a forever home is exactly what Cooper wants. He’s just not keen on working out the details.

With a former alpha werewolf missing, Cooper and Park are loaned to the BSI to conduct the search at a secluded mountain retreat. The agents will travel to the resort undercover…as a couple in need of counseling.

The resort is picturesque, the grounds are stunning and the staff members are all suspicious as hell.

With a long list of suspects and danger lurking around every cabin, Cooper should be focusing on the case. But he’s always been anxious about the power dynamics in his relationship with Park, and participating in the couples’ activities at the retreat brings it all to the surface. A storm is brewing, though, and Cooper and Park must rush to solve the case before the weather turns. Or before any more guests—or the agents themselves—end up dead.

Rating: A

To say I was excited when I learned that Charlie Adhara was going to be continuing her Big Bad Wolf series is something of an understatement.  I’ve never really been into books about shifters, but after reading Em’s DIK review of book one, The Wolf at the Door, I decided to try it and was immediately hooked on the adventures of BSI (Bureau of Special Investigations) agent Cooper Dayton and his werewolf work-partner (and later, romantic partner), Oliver Park.  Each book in the series contains a standalone mystery, but the central relationship develops throughout, so it really is advisable to read all the books and read them in order so as to gain a proper understanding of how Cooper and Park have arrived at the point at which we meet them again at the beginning of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.

[Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.]

At the end of Thrown to the Wolves, Cooper, frustrated by the utter uselessness of the BSI when it came to dealing with wolves as victims and seeing the bureau’s ignorance and lack of respect for wolves and their history, quit the organisation and joined a new department set up by the Trust (the group that oversees all wolves), dedicated to investigating crime – whether by humans or their own kind – against wolves.  He and Park have continued their working partnership there, and their personal relationship continues to thrive; they’re in love, they’ve been living together for months, and now they’re looking to buy a home together – but while Park has eagerly jumped in to the business of house-hunting, Cooper is holding back, the prospect of leaving the apartment he’s lived in for years putting him on edge. He knows his old, one bedroom place is too small for them, and that although he’s welcomed Park into his space, it’s still his space and nothing in it is Park’s.  Wanting to do something nice for Park, Cooper agrees to look for somewhere together, but he can’t work up the same enthusiasm for the search – and definitely not for the expensive ‘mini mansions’ Park favours.

Cooper is thinking he really needs to have an honest conversation with Park about the situation but is saved from doing it right away by a phone call from his former boss Elena Santiago – whom he hasn’t spoken to since leaving the BSI – who asks for their help in finding a missing wolf. A wolf who, as it turns out, Park had dealings with in his time as the Shepherd, when he fought and banished him for mistreating his pack members and attacking other packs.

After this, Thomas Kreuger found work as a groundskeeper at a remote a mountain retreat in North Carolina, living under the radar until a couple of weeks earlier, when he reached out to a pack member and told her that something at the retreat was badly wrong, but didn’t elaborate.  A week after that, he suddenly turned in his notice and just disappeared.  He hasn’t been officially reported missing, but his former mate is concerned about him. Santiago wants Cooper and Park to look into Kreuger’s disappearance unofficially – and as Maudit Falls is a relationship retreat for wolves, they already have the perfect cover story.  Fresh mountain air, brisk swims in the lake, couples counselling… it’ll be a nice little vacation for them.  Cooper isn’t particularly impressed.

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

Bishop’s Endgame (Endgame Trilogy #3) by Katie Reus

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He kidnapped a princess to exact revenge.

Set up for a crime he didn’t commit, Ellis Bishop takes the law into his own hands to exact justice and clear his name. Unfortunately, that means he has to kidnap a crime boss’s daughter—a perfect mafia princess, set to become queen of a dirty empire. What he didn’t count on was falling for his mortal enemy’s daughter.

He wasn’t supposed to fall for her.

Arianna hates the man who kidnapped her, but soon she realizes that things aren’t what they seem. Ellis was framed by her stepfather and is trying to clear his name. If she helps him, it means betraying her family. But how can she turn her back on him when he’s innocent… when her stepfather turns out to be a monster she never really knew at all?

Rating: B-

After the rather disappointing Bishop’s Queen, the middle instalment of Katie Reus’ Endgame Trilogy, I confess I was on the fence as to whether I was going to finish the series.  But in the end, I decided to read Bishop’s Endgame because I was still interested in finding out what happened to the third Bishop sibling Ellis, a former DEA agent who went on the run after he was accused of murdering his partner.  The plot is suspenseful and the two leads are engaging and easy to root for, although the romance does move really quickly – which seems par for the course with a lot of romantic suspense these days – but at least the chemistry between them is evident, even if the ILYs feel rushed.

Bishop’s Endgame opens with Ellis witnessing the murder of his friend and colleague at the hands of Vitaly Rodin, a mid-level crime boss in Miami who has set his sights on making his way up to the higher echelons by taking out his boss and taking over his operation.  When Ellis meets with his DEA boss, he shows him the video he took of the murder  – only for his boss to take the phone and try to have him arrested.  Ellis bolts and manages to get away and into hiding; intent on clearing his name, he falls off the grid while he works out what his next step should be…  and who, if anyone, he can trust.

Arianna Stavish, a third-grade teacher, is Vitaly’s stepdaughter, although she has had very little to do with him since the deaths of her mother and stepbrother Max, who died of a drug overdose some years earlier.  Traumatic events in her past drove her to drink, but now, aged twenty-five, she’s been sober for three years and is committed to staying that way.  She’s in her car, about to drive home from an AA meeting one evening when a gun is pressed to her neck and a deep voice orders her to drive – but she’d rather be shot than endure another assault and tries to run.  Her attacker subdues her with chloroform and the next thing she knows she’s waking up in her own bedroom.

Ellis’ investigations into Vitaly have led him to the conclusion that Arianna may be the key to getting the information he wants in order to bring the man down.  He’s discovered a number of offshore bank accounts in Arianna’s name with millions of dollars in them and wants to use her – and the money – to get Vitaly’s attention.  He’s also discovered Vitaly’s plans to release several new – lethal – designer drugs across Miami, and is determined not to let that happen.

Not surprisingly, Arianna is furious and scared at the situation she’s in; add bewildered to that when the guy who’s kidnapped her starts talking about the Cayman Islands and her accounts worth millions.  But while he might be crazy, she finds herself starting to believe his assertions that he doesn’t want to hurt her –although she draws the line at getting on a plane to the Caymans to withdraw money and close accounts she doesn’t have.  Yet when the man shows her that the accounts do exist and that they are in her name, it’s hard to refute the evidence of her own eyes.

We know who the bad guys are from the start, so the story is really about Ellis’ quest to find enough evidence to bring them to justice. He had believed Arianna was involved in Vitaly’s criminal activities, or at the very least, knew about them and had agreed to his using her name on the bank accounts, but he’s forced to revise his opinions and discard his preconceptions when he does a little more digging and realises something about the set-up is off.  He and Arianna don’t get off to the best of starts, obviously, but I liked her determination not to be cowed by him or the situation in spite of her fears. Fortunately, it’s not long before she starts to realise that Ellis isn’t the violent criminal she’d assumed him to be and that there really is something to the story he’s told her about her step-father – and she agrees to help Ellis to get to the truth.

The plot moves at a fast pace as Ellis and Arianna – with the help of Evie, Evan and master hacker Lizzie, who originally appeared in the Red Stone Security series – work together to clear Ellis’ name.  At the same time Ellis and Arianna are fighting the steadily growing attraction between them, knowing they’re facing an uncertain future.  There’s a bit of insta-love going on, but the author allows the plot to take priority while keeping the attraction building and bubbling, so that by the time they do give in to it, the physical intimacy feels right and not as though it has been shoe-horned in for the sake of it.

Bishop’s Endgame is probably my favourite book of the trilogy, and it’s possible to read it without reference to the other two books, as the storyline is completely separate and self-contained.  It’s a quick, fast-paced read with a high-stakes plot and engaging characters and I enjoyed it, in spite of my reservations.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

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Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

Cosmo is devastated but not ready to give up on his marriage quite yet, even though John refuses to see or speak to him. While he tries to find a way to repair the damage, Cosmo can’t help continuing to look for solutions to the various magical conundrums that surround him. Who is the so-called Witch Killer and how are they connected to the murder (in book one) of Seamus Reitherman? Who is responsible for the hit-and-run that almost killed his friend? And worse, who is trying to kill him? Combined with some of the questions left over from the first book, there’s a lot to unravel here, and clearly some of these questions won’t be answered until the final book in the series, Bell, Book and Scandal.

I continue to like Cosmo as a character; he’s made mistakes and doesn’t always listen to good advice, but he’s smart and funny and kind-hearted, and I really want him to get the HEA he wants and deserves. The trouble is that at the moment, I’m not convinced that John is the man for him. In my review of Mainly by Moonlight, I said I recognised hints that there was more to John than meets the eye; the fact that he seemed able to deflect much of Cosmo’s magic appeared to be important, and I was eager to find out why, but the reason given here – if it’s the real reason – is almost an afterthought and does nothing to shed light on John’s character. In fact, he continues to be overbearing and dismissive of Cosmo; the scene in which John expects Cosmo to deal with the contractors coming to build a pool at the back of their house when Cosmo has said, explicitly, that he’s terrified of water and doesn’t want a pool left me wondering (again) what on earth Cosmo sees in him. But then, John will do or say something that indicates he really does care a great deal for Cosmo, and I’m rooting for them to find their way back to one another. In fact, there’s something of an epiphany for Cosmo when he finally realises that theirs has never been a relationship between equals and that if they’re to have any chance at a future together, he must stop trying to be someone he’s not and start to assert himself – and most importantly, be himself.

I dithered a bit when it came to assigning a final grade for this book. I was caught up in the story and in spite of my reservations about John, I ended up really wanting him and Cosmo to work out their differences and make a fresh start. But then perhaps that’s a testament to the author’s skill; she’s created two very different characters in John and Cosmo, and in spite of the fact that one of them is much easier to like than the other – I usually find it difficult to enjoy a romance in which I feel one character doesn’t really deserve the other – has written them and their relationship in a way that has me wanting things to work out for them. I might not love John, but I believe, honestly and truly, that Cosmo does – and that makes me at least want to like him. So it’s a low-level recommendation from me for I Buried a Witch; I’m invested enough to want to see all the mystery elements brought to a conclusion and to see how John and Cosmo are able to come back from their separation and make their tentative reunion into something solid, so I’ll be picking up the final book in the trilogy when it’s released in the Spring.

The Princess Plan (Royal Weddings #1) by Julia London

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London’s high society loves nothing more than a scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefited from an anonymous tip off about the crime, forcing Sebastian to ask for her help in his quest to find his friend’s killer.

With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more dangerous than a prince socialising with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And soon, as temptation becomes harder to ignore, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.

Rating: D+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Julia London’s books in the past, so I thought I’d give her latest title a try.  The Princess Plan is billed as a mixture of mystery and romance, in which a visiting prince teams up with a lively spinster to solve a murder and falls in love along the way.  It seemed as though it might be an enjoyable romp, but sadly wasn’t.  The mystery wasn’t mysterious, the romantic development was non-existent, it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t a romp.  Unless you define a romp as pages of inane chatter and un-funny attempts at banter that seem to exist only as a way of padding out the page count.

Miss Eliza Tricklebank is twenty-eight years of age, and a spinster who keeps house for her father, a Justice of the Queen’s Bench (who has recently lost his sight) and mends clocks to earn a little something on the side.  Her sister Hollis is a widow who inherited a publishing business from her late husband and now publishes Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies, and her best friend Lady Caroline Hawke is a debutante (well, she’s described as such, but if she’s the same age as Hollis or Eliza then she’s quite an elderly debutante!), and together the three of them spend lots of time chattering about nothing in particular while also deciding what to put in the next edition of the Gazette.  Under discussion when the book opens, is the visit to London by a delegation from the small (fictional) country of Alucia, in London in order to negotiate a new trade agreement at the behest of its crown prince, who is rumoured to be in search of a bride.

Caroline – who, we’re told, knows everybody in London – is able to secure invitations to the masked ball held in honour of the visit for herself and her friends, and it’s here that Eliza, quietly getting tipsy on the rum punch, makes the acquaintance of a gentleman she later realises is none other than Crown Prince Sebastian.

You’re shocked, I can tell.

Flirting and silliness ensure until Sebastian has to go to put in an appearance at the meet and greet portion of the evening, after which he finds himself a woman for the night.  This means Sebastian never does go to meet with his secretary and dear friend Matous, who had told him he needed to see him as a matter of urgency.

And who turns up dead the next morning, his throat cut.

Of course the proper authorities are informed, but Sebastian isn’t impressed with the way they seem to be handling things and decides to investigate the matter himself, much to the displeasure of his brother and the rest of his staff.  And when, a day or so later, an accusation is levelled against a member of the delegation – printed in a lady’s gazette – Sebastian is furious and demands to speak with the author of such unsubstantiated rubbish.

Thus do Eliza and Sebastian find themselves investigating the murder, but the mystery – and I use the term very loosely – is so incredibly weak that it’s impossible to invest in, and the identity of the villain(s) is telegraphed early on, so it’s obvious to everyone – except Sebastian it seems, who thus comes across as really dim.  And when the mystery is solved, the reader is not present when the full extent of the plot is revealed and is merely told about it afterwards.

The romantic relationship is equally lacklustre.  There’s no emotional connection between Sebastian and Eliza, no build-up to their first kiss and absolutely no chemistry between them.  The conflict in their romance is, of course, that Sebastian is royalty and Eliza is a commoner and thus ineligible to become his wife; plus he needs to marry a woman with pedigree and connections – and Eliza has neither.  The solution to this dilemma is ridiculously convoluted and, unless corrections have been made to the ARC I read, doesn’t work.  Sebastian’s solution is to find a way to make Eliza’s father a Baron, which will make her a Lady and thus an eligible bride.  Er… no. The daughter of a Baron is not a Lady, she’s still a Miss (a Right Honourable). To be a Lady, Eliza’s father would have had to have been made an Earl at least.  Seriously, this information is available widely on the internet and it took me ten seconds to find it.

Eliza is obviously meant to be one of those ‘breath of fresh air’, quirky heroines who doesn’t abide by the rules.  She points out, for instance, that while other young ladies must be accompanied by a maid when they go out, she goes wherever she likes on her own; she stood in the middle of London without fanfare all the time. Conversely, Sebastian is hemmed in by all sorts of rules and restrictions that accompany his position – he frequently bemoans the fact that he cannot go out alone, that he has very little privacy and so on and so on… so I had to wonder why free-spirited Eliza – who sees first hand just how restricted Sebastian’s life is – would want to subject herself to the same constraints.  And Sebastian is… well, I finished the book less than an hour ago, and I can’t remember much about him at all.

The Princess Plan doesn’t work as a mystery or a romance, and the plot –such as it is – is not substantial enough to fill a full-length novel.  The characters are unmemorable, the pacing is sluggish and quite honestly, I was bored.  As an alternative to The Princess Plan, might I suggest The Watching Paint Dry Plan, or The Watching Grass Grow Plan, either of which might afford a similar level of entertainment.

The Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential #3) by Diana Muñoz Stewart

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He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica—face to face with the woman of his dreams…

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they’ll demand something in return—something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

Rating: D+

The Cost of Honor is book three in Diana Muñoz Stewart’s Black Ops Confidential series about a group of adoptive siblings (twenty-eight in total, all but two of them female) who were adopted by one of the world’s wealthiest women and trained in badassery to be warriors in her social justice crusade.  The story picks up after the end of the first book, I Am Justice, and focuses on one of the only male members of the Parrish ‘family’, Tony, who has got himself into hot water by going against orders so as to save his sister Justice from the possibly fatal consequences of her own rash actions.  Knowing the rest of the family will see this as a massive betrayal, he has only one way to keep body, soul and, most importantly, mind together; he fakes his own death to avoid being hauled back to the family HQ to have his memories altered.

Even though he’s managed to get away, Tony knows it’s just a matter of time before the family tracks him down, so he’s determined to keep moving.  Shortly after his escape, he travels to Dominica, where he (stupidly) goes kite boarding during a storm, gets wiped out and is saved by Honor Silva, a young woman who owns a cocoa farm where she manufactures high-grade, boutique chocolate and runs an island tour business on the side.

Having seen Lazarus Graves (as Tony has styled himself) is safe in hospital, Honor returns home to discover that someone has made an offer for the farm, hotel and tour business for an amount way in excess of what it’s actually worth, but she turns it down.  She has no desire to sell and besides, such an offer is extremely suspicious – why anyone would want to pay well over the odds for a business that is just about breaking even?  But when all but one of her regular tour guides fail to show for work and a number of ‘accidents’ start to occur on the tours,  it becomes clear that whoever made that offer is prepared to get their hands on the business by whatever means necessary.

The suspense plot in The Cost of Honor is intriguing, topical and moves at a good pace with clues revealed to the reader at the same time as the characters so we’re able to start to piece things together at the same time they are.  But this is (supposedly) a romantic suspense novel, and the low grade I’ve given it is entirely due to the clumsiness of the romance, which is unconvincing and contains more cheese than my favourite fondue recipe.  Even the term ‘insta-lust’ doesn’t adequately describe the speed at which things progress; Tony is in the hospital when the mental lusting starts (he’s specifically impressed by Honor’s boobs), and within a couple of days, the couple is pondering the amazing connection they share.  (Which isn’t shared with the reader – it’s all telling and no showing.)  The characterisation of Honor is inconsistent which made it difficult to get a handle on her.  When we first meet her, she’s contrasting her own cautious personality with her late mother’s bold, go-getter ways and told she secretes away her heart and her true desires.  But within  a day or two of meeting Tony,  she’s ordering him to get onto his knees and go down on her, and he’s thinking of her as a ballbuster – which just didn’t fit the initial picture the author paints of Honor as cautious and somewhat reserved.

The novel is full of clichéd dialogue and laughable statements .  I made note of many such instances on my Kindle, but here are a few of the highlights:

Tony is turned on by Honor’s driving skills:

“Honor, you catch my breath.  The way you drive.  The way you pause in the road right before a dip.  It’s like you’re one with the earth.”

In an attempt at banter worthy of any Carry On film:

“I can’t wait to get my lips around your recipes.”

(Oooh, er, Matron!)

During a discussion about the level of danger to Honor and trusting each other, Honor says:

“Are you sure, Laz? You barely know me.  I mean, we haven’t even slept together yet.”

Huh?

And when they do get busy between the sheets, she says right out that they don’t need to use a condom because she’s on the pill and hasn’t had sex in two years.  She’s known the man for a couple of days.

And this made me laugh so hard.  After Honor gives Tony the Best BJ EVAH, he asks:

“What can I do for you, Honor? What can I do to show you… to make this moment last forever in your mind? Last for all the days that I won’t be here?”

Hm.  Now let me see.  What should she ask for?  Reciprocation? To be thrown down and taken hard and fast?  Breakfast?  Diamonds? Nah.

She asks him to DANCE FOR HER.

WTF?  I’m pretty sure the response to that request from most blokes would be “are you ‘avin’ a laugh?”

The Cost of Honor doesn’t work as a romance or as a standalone, as so much of Tony’s backstory is obviously tied to previous books in the series and the opening of the novel is quite confusing as a result.  The suspense plot is decent (ish) although towards the end, it’s overstuffed with both characters and plotpoints. But what really sinks the novel is the complete lack of romantic chemistry and the poor-execution of the romantic storyline.  I keep picking up romantic suspense novels by new and new-to-me authors in the hope of finding something to really capture my attention and sadly, am disappointed more often than not.  Give this one a wide berth.