Review | Twisted Truths (Blood Brothers # 3), Rebecca Zanetti

34616646When Noni’s infant niece is kidnapped by a gang led by the baby’s birth father, Noni goes online to track down her ex-boyfriend Denver Jones, a talented detective who Noni hopes can rescue her niece. What Noni doesn’t realize is that Denver is in hiding himself, from the evil doctor who genetically engineered Denver and his brothers to have superior intellect and strength, and that by posting their photos online, Noni has put herself in danger from the doctor and her henchman.

Twisted Truths is the final book in a series, and I would highly recommend reading the other books first. Zanetti does a fairly good job at reviewing the backstory, but as a new reader, it felt like an info dump, and it took me a while to warm up to the characters. In particular, the beginning of Noni and Denver’s romance happened in a previous book, so without that history, Noni’s desperate search for him felt a bit obsessive (why couldn’t she just hire another detective?). There were also multiple references to how different he’d presented himself to her previously, and without the context of just the version of Denver she had fallen in love with, I couldn’t understand how she could be just as much in love with such a drastically different man.

The suspense part was a bit easier to follow than the romance. The evil doctor wants Denver back to join her genetically engineered army, her henchman wants to kill Denver and his brothers for having killed his brother years ago, and Denver and his brothers want to kill them both. The doctor was a bit of a cartoon villain, which made it difficult to take her seriously, despite how dangerous Denver and his brothers said she was. At one point, she even giggles over having done the dastardly deed of writing on the heroine with black marker — I can understand the violation Noni must have felt, but that bit of villainy felt more like a high school bully than an evil mastermind.

Her henchman Sheriff Cobb was framed as an evil bully, but I actually felt a bit sympathetic towards him, because his motivation is revenge over his brother’s death in a fire set by Denver and his brothers when they were children. Again, this is a point where having read the earlier books would have helped by giving me a bit more context into Cobb’s villainy. As it was, when Denver taunts him by lying about how much pain Cobb’s brother was in as he died, Denver was the one I found cruel and for a moment, I almost wanted Cobb to win.

As the final book in the series, Twisted Truths brings back the characters from the previous books — Denver’s brothers and the women they love, and another group of genetically engineered brothers whom I believe where the heroes in another series by the same author. These characters come together to help Denver and Noni rescue the baby and end the evil doctor’s master plan. Once I got into the rhythm of the story and got to know the characters a bit better, the story picked up and the action scenes were fun to read. Denver also has to deal with some heavy emotional moments, and I like seeing his brothers coming together to support him. The ending is lovely and heartwarming, featuring somewhat of a family reunion and a promise of Denver and his brothers joining up with the other group of brothers and forming a much larger family. Given the horrific childhood they faced, and the struggle they went through to learn to accept familial love, this felt like a nice and fitting ending to the series.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an e-gallery in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Falling into Right (Redemption County # 2), Sharon Kay

36230911I absolutely fell in love with this love story. Falling into Right begins with an actually adorable meet-cute, when Becca Gable slips and falls in a courthouse on her way to pay a fine. Police officer Shane Marlow and his K-9 partner Denver give her a hand up and lecture the teens who’d spilled pop on the floor, and as far as Becca is concerned, that’s the end of the story. Becca has just come out of a long-term relationship with the county treasurer, who broke up with her when she was convicted of a crime and therefore became a political liability. So Becca’s well aware that a relationship with a cop is highly unlikely. Fortunately for her, fate has other plans, and Shane shows up at her door to return the driver’s license she dropped.

Shane is just one of the sweetest, most understanding romantic heroes I’ve ever encountered. He faces his own personal demons, being ex-military and a survivor of an IED blast that killed half his team. He is a reluctant celebrity hero; despite the county’s accolades, he is uncomfortable with the attention and lives with the guilt of his teammates’ deaths.

Becca is dealing with her own trauma. A series of personal tragedies leads up to the crime that lands her a criminal record, and she gives up a lucrative career in finance for an entry level job at a seniors’ home.

While the chemistry between Shane and Becca was super hot, what made this story so compelling was the deep, emotional connection they formed with each other. Even more than the steamy details of their attraction to each other, it’s Shane’s compassionate response to Becca’s halting confession of her past that made me melt. I love how they bonded over their shared pain, and I love how Sharon Kay resists the easy platitudes and instead allows both characters to work through their experiences together.

As an animal lover, I also absolutely loved Shane’s K-9 partner Denver, who can switch from adorably goofy to fierce protector in the blink of an eye. There’s a scene where Denver curls up next to Becca to comfort her, and Shane realizes that Denver does that only to humans he considers family, and that was just the sweetest moment.

There’s a suspense subplot as well, as a stalker hounds Becca with reminders of her crime. The stalker’s identity and motivations aren’t all that much of a reveal, but I liked how it forced Becca to confront her past and how special her relationship with Shane is.

Falling into Right is the first book I’ve read by Sharon Kay and it’ll certainly not be the last. It’s a wonderful sweet and sexy romance with a strong emotional core, and it’ll make you melt and fall totally in love with this romance.

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Thank you to the publisher for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Instructions for a Secondhand Heart, Tamsyn Murray

36199426Instructions for a Secondhand Heart is a love story with a tear jerking twist: Jonny has lived for months in the hospital hooked up to machines that keep his heart beating — or, as he wryly puts it, he’s a robot with a mechanical heart. In a nearby town, twins Neve and Leo race up a dangerous boulder ostensibly to win bragging rights, but for Neve, it’s a rare opportunity to beat her seemingly perfect twin. When a tragic accident occurs, Jonny finally gets his wish to leave the hospital and return to school, and Neve has to live forever with the guilt over her role in the accident.

The story takes off when Jonny decides to learn more about the boy whose heart has given him a chance at a healthy life. He reaches out to Neve with a cover story, hiding the truth about his link to her family. Neve in turn is tired of being defined in opposition to her twin, and welcomes the chance to be with a guy who she believes knows nothing of her twin and therefore whose relationship with her is completely separate from the rest of her reality.

Instructions for a Secondhand Heart is a pretty good YA contemporary romance that may appeal to fans of The Fault in Our Stars. My main reservation with this book is that I never really felt the chemistry and attraction between Jonny and Neve. Jonny’s attraction to Neve seemed more an obsessive curiosity about Leo, and Neve’s attraction to Jonny seemed more a desire to escape talk about Leo. So when they suddenly profess to real feelings, the reveal felt insincere.

I personally thought Jonny had more of a spark with Em, his best friend from the hospital who is living with cancer and for whom Jonny sketched a superhero alterego who fights off evil blobs. Em was probably my favourite character in this book, and I thought she deserved a much better ending than she got. I thought her friendship with Jonny seemed very strong, and even if he didn’t reciprocate her feelings, he could’ve been more sensitive in how he treated her. The book also includes Jonny’s sketches of both Em’s superhero alterego and Neve, which I thought enhanced the story beautifully.

Jonny and Neve were compelling characters mostly because of their stories beyond the romance. I liked seeing Jonny readjust to life outside the hospital and try to fit in at school. I also felt for him when he tried to join activities Leo did, to somehow make himself ‘worthy’ of receiving Leo’s heart, even though Leo’s life was clearly the wrong fit for his personality. Neve in turn had a prickly, defensive posture throughout, which took her a bit longer to warm up to, but I like how Murray explores the psychological trauma Neve and her family struggle with after Leo’s death. I can sympathize with Neve wanting to stop talking about Leo all the time, and with her corresponding guilt at the desire to forget him even for a moment. These pieces seemed sincere, and the romance felt incongruous in contrast.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.