They can't all be winners, but man, this one was extra-disappointing.
I don't care for romance for the sake of romance, but I do enjoy a good sub-plot, if the characters have chemistry and it's well written. Many books ago, Sarah Booth had an almost-romance with a character, and I was hooked on their dynamic, and bummed when it didn't work. Then after many, many books and many other romantic interests, I finally got my wish; sadly the joy was dinged by one of the most badly edited stories I've seen on paper in a long time (not being a reader of self-published books).
This could have been an amazing story: witches, spells, poisonings, there's-something-in-the-woods, huge claw marks on doors, old houses with secret rooms and tunnels, and my favorite romantic interest back in the saddle. But if this story wasn't rushed to press, it was definitely neglected by management; major re-writes took place and nobody followed up with proofing to check for continuity. The results include characters who explicitly remain behind only to suddenly be participating in conversation, and Sarah Booth commenting on kicking the bad guy, giving him a limp, when she never actually kicked him. Unfortunately, these are just the two I remember - there were others, including a scene where characters change mid-paragraph).
Continuity errors aside, the plotting was a little bit of a mess too: too much going on and not tightly enough written, so the reader really has no hope of following events. To be fair, Sarah Booth struggled too, so maybe this was deliberate and I just don't care for the device. I also don't care for the plot twist at the end; it's the second time in as many books where it's been used, and it leaves me feeling played.
If not for the characters, whom I love (although I'm over Tinky and her baby angst), and the familiar landscape of Zinnia, the rating for this would be so much lower. It's obvious that Haines didn't phone this in: nobody just phones in a plot as convoluted as this, but her editors and Minotaur screwed her and her readers by printing this half-finished effort. And that's tragic; Haines is worlds better than this and after 17 books, readers deserve better.
Here's hoping #19 reflects previous efforts, and 18 is just an aberration.