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Book Review: Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

killer instinct

Title: Killer Instinct

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Naturals #2

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Seventeen-year-old Cassie Hobbes has a gift for profiling people. Her talent has landed her a spot in an elite FBI program for teens with innate crime-solving abilities, and into some harrowing situations. After barely escaping a confrontation with an unbalanced killer obsessed with her mother’s murder, Cassie hopes she and the rest of the team can stick to solving cold cases from a distance. But when victims of a brutal new serial killer start turning up, the Naturals are pulled into an active case that strikes too close to home: the killer is a perfect copycat of Dean’s incarcerated father—a man he’d do anything to forget. Forced deeper into a murderer’s psyche than ever before, will the Naturals be able to outsmart the enigmatic killer’s brutal mind games before this copycat twists them into his web for good?

 

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The Review:

Considering that The Naturals was my favorite YA book of 2013, you can understand why I was so concerned Killer Instinct wouldn’t live up to my expectations. After all, the first book BLEW ME AWAY and it seemed like two outstanding, well-crafted novels in a row might be just too much to ask. So imagine my delight when I settled in to binge read Killer Instinct and it was just as AMAZEBALLS as the first one!

Both books in the series have been consistent with these attributes: fantastic characters who I want to learn more about with every passing page, an excellent and perfectly creepy perspective that takes you into the mind of the killer, a cool concept for a plot that is complex without being convoluted, and really interesting applications for each of these teenagers’ talents (which is my favorite element – it’s really neat to see how an analyzer, a statistician, an emotion reader, and a lie detector pull together their skills to solve crimes).

Barnes puts together these complex ministries that somehow make you feel like your part of the story. I learned from The Naturals that, as far as suspects go, every character is fair game. It made the story interactive in a way, because with every new character introduced or new situation unveiled, I immediately had to reevaluate what I knew up to that point to try to figure out “whodunit.” It was written so well that I was literally suspicious about everyone! It makes these books so much more fun to read because I felt involved in trying to figure out who the killer was throughout both entire novels. The difference for this book is, while last time I was a casual detective, this time I was in full-blown Sherlock Holmes mode! It was so much fun to read, I can hardly stand it.

Part of why I think I enjoyed it so much is that I don’t get to utilize my freakishly honed detective skills very often (I may be exaggerating a little bit). You see, I’ve always been fascinated with shows like Criminal Minds, and love learning how crimes are solved, but I am usually too squeamish to actually sit down and watch them… pathetic, I know. In any case, The Naturals series provided all the same crime solving awesomeness, but without the gore (the visual stuff, anyway. I can totally handle the written stuff).

Overall, I think I’m in love… These books are self-contained mysteries, but there’s an overall arc growing between them that makes me want to pee myself with excitement over what the next novel might bring. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year to see what happens next – this is seriously the biggest woe us book-lovers have to deal with, isn’t it? I can tell you one thing though, it will be well worth the wait!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten Books I Read in 2014!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Oh my gosh – two TTT’s in a row! I was seriously slacking in the blogging department this week (I blame the holidays… and finals). On the bright side, at least my two lists are related. One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is look back and figure out which books totally rocked my world. This year, these books were so good they kind of made my decision for me…

Top Ten Books I Read in 2014!

One of my resolutions for 2014 was to “read the best books first,” and based on the killer titles on this list, I’d say I definitely achieved my goal! Last year I chose a top adult and a top young adult novel, but these titles were all so amazing that I couldn’t bring myself to pick just one of each. Many of these books have become my favorites EVER within their respective genres. Yeah, they were that good!

What were the best books YOU read this year?

By Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten New-to-Me Authors in 2014!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I read a ton of killer books this year, some of which are now among my all-time favorites!

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors in 2014!

You might notice that almost all of them are teen books. I did read a disproportionate number of them this year, but the reason there aren’t many fantasy, sci-fi, or urban fantasies on this list is because I’ve been focused on finishing out series I’d already started. That’s not to say there aren’t still some great books here – The Girl of Fire and Thorns is easily my new favorite teen fantasy and Not a Drop to Drink is also way up on my list of dystopians. I am also in love with Perfected and The Lies of Locke Lamora and… well, all of them lol.

What new authors did you read this year?

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Book Review: Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

Spider's BiteTitle: Spider’s Bite

Author: Jennifer Estep

Series: Elemental Assassin #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride. Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction…especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.

The Review:

I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I was going to. I’ve been reading the likes of Briggs, Harrison, and Butcher lately, so I was understandably nervous that Spider’s Bite might fall short of such high standards. While it wasn’t quite as brilliant, it definitely holds its own within the urban fantasy genre.

I now more than ever appreciate Jennifer Estep for her great ideas. This urban fantasy world contains Elementals who, you guessed it, control the elements. On top of that, there’s the usual array of paranormal creatures, so the combination of magic and paranormal (of this specific variety) is within itself an interesting twist that I haven’t come across before. Considering how many urban fantasies I’ve read, that’s getting harder and harder to do. Top everything off with a kickass assassin with an interesting back story, and I’m sold! It had the same creative appeal as her Mythos Academy series (which I also enjoyed).

Even though the ideas and themes behind the book were my favorite elements, I also appreciated the characters. As I mentioned before, I really liked Gin and especially appreciated how she handled herself in deadly situations – she’s definitely one tough cookie! She was also an incredibly consistent character, by which I mean she didn’t turn into a pansy when something tragic happened, thereby maintaining her assassin persona. Although she was sad, her focus quickly shifted to getting even. I definitely don’t mind when characters get emotional within books, but a simpering heap of an assassin would have ruined her badass character profile. I also loved Caine as a potential love interest and enjoyed the dynamic he and Gin had right from the start.

Really, there weren’t many things I didn’t like about the story. Sure, it lacked a little bit of complexity (as the story was pretty straightforward), but what was there was done really well. The only thing that bothered me a little is almost too stupid to mention (which means I’m going to talk about it for at least a paragraph): Estep had a reoccurring descriptive lead-in that fixated on the characters’ eyes. “I looked at him with my gray eyes,” “he peered at me with his golden eyes,” “I narrowed my gray eyes.”… You get the idea. It was actually a clever way to draw attention to a unique feature, but it happened so often (at least once a chapter) that it was almost funny. My hazel eyes are going to light up with delight if I catch more than a couple in the next book. :-)

Overall, I consider Spider’s Bite and entertaining read and definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of the urban fantasy genre. I will definitely be continuing on in the series.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkowski

The winner's crimeTitle: The Winner’s Crime

Author: Marie Rutkowski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #2

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Release Date: March 3, 2015

The Overview: The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret. As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

I have to say I really enjoyed The Winner’s Curse even though the conflicts within the story drug out just a little bit too long for my taste. Even so, I like where the story is going and will definitely be excited to read this one in March. There was enough world building in the first one to pique my interest, but I’m looking forward to seeing the author expand on it even more in this much-anticipated sequel. So far, the story has been entertaining, but not quite worth all of the hype I’ve seen in the blogosphere (in my humble opinion). I’m hoping The Winner’s Crime will make me a believer. :-)

 

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Top Ten New Book Releases in Early 2015!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

There are so many good books coming out next year that I can hardly stand it. I better ask for book money for Christmas…

Top Ten New Book Releases in Early 2015!

I am excited for all of these! The Ruby Circle is the conclusion to the Bloodlines series by my all time favorite author, so that takes priority, but all of these others will have to duke it out for 2nd place. All I can say is, 2015 is going to rock!

What books are you anticipating in 2015?

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Stacking the Shelves: October/November 2014!

Stacking the shelves

Hosted by Tynga’s Reviews

 Even though I brought home some titles last month, I never got around to composing a Stacking the Shelves post, so lucky you, here’s two months in one! ;-)

 Hardcopies:

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 Considering I have just these six books to show for two whole months of book buying, I think I’m doing pretty good at moderating my spending. Oh, wait… I forgot about:

Vegas Valley Book Festival 2014:

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Hee hee. All signed! Although, I’d like to clarify that I only actually purchased four of these at the festival itself and of been slowly collecting the others over the past six months. Still, they feel like brand-new books! The two authors I was most excited to meet were Mindy McGinnis and Amy Tintera:

Yeah, I totally fangirled… It was awesome! I enjoyed meeting all of the authors and listening to them talk about their books on panel. Even though I read most of the books on my list before attending, I didn’t get a chance to read them all. Next year I have the best intentions to read them all, and I’m also getting my mom involved, so between the two of us will have talking points for everyone we meet at VVBF 2015!

 Library Books:

  I’ve hung onto Reboot longer than I intended, but I’m kind of saving it for a rainy day. I’m also super excited to pick up The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon – it has been several years in the making.

Not too bad for a haul, eh? I have to admit that even though I’ve been more conservative this year than in any year prior, I’m still behind in my, Read 4, Buy 1 Challenge, and it’s not looking too good for me to catch up by the end of the year. The bulk purchases made at that awesome used Seattle bookstore and the ones at the Vegas Valley book Festival are what did me in. Oh yeah, and four of the six books I’ve purchased in the last two months outside of those events were bought yesterday with my nifty Barnes & Noble 30% off coupons… I’m screwed LOL. Before that, I was only four books behind (if we don’t include the bulk purchases… which I’m not). In any case, I’m still showing progress and I wager next year will be even better! 

 What books did you bring home this month?

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Last Dragonlord by JoAnne Bertin

The last Dragon LordTitle: The Last Dragonlord

Author: JoAnne Bertin

Series: Dragonlord #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: First published in 1999, the Queen of one of the Dragonlords’ subject realms has suspiciously drowned and two regents vie for control of the vacant throne. At the same time, a secret society led by a sinister image has dark plans of its own. Linden realises that the deadly magic that holds him may make him the last dragonlord…ever.

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The Review:

I first read The Last Dragonlord and its sequel about ten years ago but decided to reread them because the final book in the trilogy (The Bard’s Oath) came out last year, and I’d been waiting so long for it that I’d totally forgotten what had happened in the first two books. I normally have pretty decent book-recall, but I didn’t seem to remember much of anything about this one other than that I liked it. While I enjoyed the story throughout this reread, it was not nearly as good as I remembered it. This was probably one of the first dragon books I read, so that may have positively influenced my initial rating, but since I’ve now become Dragon Obsessed, I can name at least a dozen titles I liked better.

That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with this book, necessarily, just a handful of things I thought could’ve been better. It was an incredibly unconventional story, which worked both for and against the author. On one hand, nothing about it followed along the same old cliché story lines, so that in itself was refreshing, but the choices that were in it place were just a little too odd for my taste.

To start with, Linden, the hero of the story, was kind of an ass. I found him selfish, impulsive, and severely lacking in compassion and common sense. He definitely didn’t inspire any confidence in his ability to handle the broad conflicts, and I found myself unable to really get behind him. The good news is that all of the other characters (at least, the ones on the “good” side) were absolutely delightful. So, even though the main protagonist was kind of a flop in my book (pun intended), all of the other interesting characters kept me reading long after I would have thrown in the towel. There were a ton of different POVs from which the story was told, which may have helped me ignore Linden, but I’m still on the fence as to whether I liked them or not.

You see, the story starts out by bouncing around a dozen different perspectives – all within the first fifty pages. I found it frustrating and a bit difficult to keep track of them all as the story progressed… that is until I finally started seeing some of them on a consistent basis. So on one hand it’s great because if you have a character you don’t like, you’re not with them for very long, but on the other hand all of those perspectives means there’s not much left for the reader to discover. And that brings me to my next observation:

The interesting thing about this book is that the first third of it was a perfect case study in dramatic irony (when the audience know something characters do not). I’m typically not a fan of that writing tactic because it takes away almost all feelings of suspense and discovery, and I wind up impatient and antsy for the characters’ knowledge to catch up with my own. It kind of keeps the reader at an arms distance because, while the characters were feeling the stress and tension, I already knew what was really going on so it didn’t affect me as much. On top of that, there were quite a few scenes that didn’t really add to either character growth or plot advancement, so I had to wait even longer for the characters to figure out the things that I’d learned a hundred pages ago. Needless to say, reading this book was a bit more of a struggle than it could have been. 

I have a whole bunch of reasons why I didn’t value the book is highly as I could have, but I finished it, so that should speak to some positive attributes. I enjoyed the overall arc of the story, the writing itself, and the creativity and vividness of the scenes and the people. While this won’t go down as the best book I’ve ever read, it still sits comfortably in the “enjoyable” slot, and I will definitely be continuing on to reread the second and finally get the conclusion I’ve been craving with the third. If you’re in the mood for something dazzlingly unconventional, The Last Dragonlord definitely fits the bill.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR!

top ten tuesday

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

These TBR lists are easily my favorite lists we do throughout the year – mostly because I love the process of picking out which books to read next. Sometime last year I realized I was spending a lot of time on books I wasn’t enjoying and avoiding the ones I knew I would love because I was “saving them” for a rainy day. Since then, I’ve been actively working on my goal to only read the best books first – life is just too dang short to do anything else. With that in mind, I look at these lists as a helpful aid in figuring out which books I’m currently most excited for, and consider it a badge of pride if I pick up at least half of them before the next TBR list.

Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR!

Not a bad list, eh? If you can’t tell, I am in a very strong high fantasy mood, in part because they are awesome, but mostly because I have finally reached my limit on YA novels (at least for now). There are so many good ones on this list I couldn’t even tell you which one I’m going to pick up first. Right now, I’m leaning towards The Merchants Emperor, but that could easily change by this afternoon!

What books are on your list?

By Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The First Confessor by Terry Goodkind

The first confessorTitle: The First Confessor

Author: Terry Goodkind

Series: Sword of Truth #.5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 1/5 stars

Overview: In the time before the Confessors, when the world is a dark and dangerous place, where treason and treachery are the rule of the day, comes one heroic woman, Magda Searus, who has just lost her husband and her way in life.

The Review:

I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a prequel it’s because I’m interested to learn more about something referenced within the main series. As Kahlan is my single most favorite female character from any series, you can understand why the idea of learning more about where the Mother Confessors originated was incredibly appealing to me. The problem is, about 75% of this novel was focused on explaining all of the things readers would already know from having read the main series. Call me crazy, but I think we can safely assume that anybody interested in reading this book has probably read most, if not all of the Sword of Truth books. It’s bad enough Goodkind drills concepts into his readers over and over again throughout the entire saga, but to do it again in a 480 page prequel without showing us anything new was just plain disappointing.

Seriously, it was chapter after chapter of the same old things being explained to Magda (and her in turn explaining them to other people) – how the Temple of the Wind functions, what the Slith is and how she helps the wizards, who the Dream Walkers are (he spent a ton of time on this one), how the devotions to Rahl prevent said Dream Walkers from taking over, and how spectacularly special Magda Searus is. If any of this rings a bell, congratulations – you’ve just been gifted 3/4 of this book in one nifty little paragraph.

Need I go on?

Ugh, I know I sound a little harsh, but I had several cool ideas on where I thought the story was going to go and was really disappointed when Goodkind didn’t explore any of them. I mean, come on! The Mother Confessor is an all-powerful (and kickass) character who has to live with the consequences every time she chooses to destroy a life for the “greater good,” and I was eager to learn what that would’ve been like for someone who wasn’t born and raised into this magic but had it thrust onto them as an experiment. Not to mention the effects this new powerful magic would have on society as a whole. But none of that was explored for more than a couple of paragraphs… it was kind of pathetic.

The thing is, I don’t think my opinion of this title will surprise many lovers of the main series – Goodkind has a reputation for being long-winded and incredibly repetitive. I normally am willing to sift through all of that for the golden moments that make his novels so special, but this is the first time I didn’t get a payoff for my efforts. Well, that’s not strictly true (Pillars of the Earth, I’m talking to you) but I think you know what I mean.

Overall, if you are a fan of the series, I don’t think The First Confessor is worth your time. Those who haven’t read any of Goodkind’s work might find it an entertaining fantasy, but why learn the stuff ahead of time if you just get to spend 10+ books rehashing it over and over again, anyway? For the record, I absolutely loved the series the first time around and highly recommend it… just skip past this particular one and call it a day. :-) 

Other books you might like (better): 

by Niki Hawkes