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Book Review: All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

all inTitle: All In

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Naturals #2

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Three casinos. Three bodies. Three days. After a string of brutal murders in Las Vegas, Cassie Hobbes and the Naturals are called in to investigate. But even with the team’s unique profiling talents, these murders seem baffling: unlike many serial killers, this one uses different methods every time. All of the victims were killed in public, yet the killer does not show up on any tape. And each victim has a string of numbers tattooed on their wrist. Hidden in the numbers is a code—and the closer the Naturals come to unraveling the mystery, the more perilous the case becomes. Meanwhile, Cassie is dealing with an equally dangerous and much more painful mystery. For the first time in years, there’s been a break in her mother’s case. As personal issues and tensions between the team mount, Cassie and the Naturals will be faced with impossible odds—and impossible choices. -Goodreads

The Review:

The Naturals Series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes might be my favorite YA series of all time. I devour each new book with a passion I don’t experience often with books, having read so many. Here are just a couple of the many reasons why I LOVE it:

The concept!! The series revolves around teens who are ridiculously talented in certain areas useful to crime solving (emotion-gadgers, statistical-analysists, lie-detectors, and so on). What I love is that these talents are totally feasible (albeit rare), so it feels like reading about real-world superheroes. It fascinated me to no end to see their analytical skills put to the test. My favorite was probably Sloane – the statistician. She’s really quirky and endearing, but also incredibly smart, using numbers and statistics to predict where the killer would strike next, deciphering commonalities for whom the killer might target, and analyzing things like security camera footage to pinpoint criminals based on trajectory and all sorts of other complicated math that I only half pretend understand (;P). All In gave Sloane more of a spotlight and it was awesome to get to know her even better.

Basically, take these cool characters with cool talents and add to that a complex mystery, and I’m in love.

As if it wasn’t fun enough reading about these super talents, the mystery within each novel is what I think really draws me in. It’s nothing like those old Nancy Drew novels where the criminal is always the nicest persona in the book. In the Naturals series, the killer could literally be anyone, and Barnes does a masterful job of incorporating a lot of plausible misdirection to keep you guessing. When I read these novels, I always have SO MANY THEORIES about who the killer could be. And each new chapter gets me that much closer to figuring it out. It’s seriously the most engaged I’ve ever been in a book, making it also one of the funnest books I’ve ever read. Additionally, each book gets more complex without also getting more convoluted. There’s a different mystery in each novel, but they are all tied together by one big story arc (that’s also a complex mystery) which has gained so much momentum that I’m absolutely DYING to read Bad Blood (the final book in the series) which comes out November 1, 2016.

In fact, I think the reason I loved All In in particular was that it did an excellent job advancing the overall story arc while still giving me a killer mystery to help solve (I say “help” ironically… I didn’t do shit). All In also delved into a bit more background of The Naturals (the characters, as that’s how they refer to themselves) and you start to see even more how they ended up with such honed talents. Ugh, I really can’t say much more than that without dipping into spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

Overall, for any of you Criminal Minds fans out there, this is the series for you! This is one of my favorite books to recommend because 1) I love geeking out about it 2) it’s one of the most engaging books I’ve ever read and 3) I think it appeals to a wide range of readers. I call a lot of things my favorite, but I really, really mean it this time, haha. :)

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by Niki Hawkes

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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?

killer instincy 2

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 mysteries 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!

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by Niki Hawkes