Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Bad Blood
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #4
Pages: 384
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 1st 2016

      “When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.
      The bodies begin piling up, the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.
      They’re being hunted themselves.

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“The smell of burning flesh never really leaves you. Ash scatters. Skin scars. Pain subsides. But the smell is always there.”

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals series coalesces into a thrilling conclusion with Bad Blood. Cassie Hobbes’s world turned upside down with her mother’s gruesome murder. Years later, recruited by the FBI to be a part of a team of gifted teens that assist in the investigation of unsolved murders, Cassie has forged a new kind of family for herself. But the past refuses to let go and Cassie’s world is once again turned upside down when she discovers her mother is alive. Cassie will do anything to find the people who have kept her mother captive all these years including going toe to toe with a dangerous organization of serial killers who’ve be wreaking havoc across the country for decades. The hunt for answers will brings Cassie closer to her mother, but will also bring her and her team into the crosshairs of a group of killers who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Barnes’s series is how well she balances plot and character development. Hunting serial killers means the stakes are always high and sometimes they become personal. Much of Cassie’s motivation stems from guilt for having failed her mother in some way. These cases bring out the best in Cassie’s ability to profile the killer and sometimes even the victim, but they also have an emotional toll. In Bad Blood, Cassie is desperate to find her mother, but it may turn her into someone she no longer recognizes and cost her the people she’s found a home with. Of the five members of The Naturals, Dean Redding, son of an infamous serial killer, may be the most well-adjusted. The earlier novels focus more on his story and him having to constantly prove to everyone that he isn’t like his father. His relationship with Cassie is one my favorites in the series as the two of them play off each other so well. I missed seeing more of this dynamic and would have liked the author to show how both characters are learning to be vulnerable with the other despite their pasts.

Standout character for the second book in a row goes to Lia Zhang. Probably the most well-rounded character in the series, Lia isn’t always open to sharing who she is. In those rare moments of vulnerability, we see a girl whose been emotionally manipulated and who had to make tough choices at very young age. She’s adopted the art of lying as a means of survival, but this often means that even those closest to her don’t know her entire story. Michael comes from an abusive home and is more likely to hide behind a cocky smile than give any indication of what he might really be feeling. I wasn’t a big fan of the Lia and Michael dynamic, not because I didn’t think they were compatible, but because they quarreled more than they built each other up. I think it would have gone a long way to see these two take things slow (their history aside) and learn how to communicate in an open and honest way–not just for their relationship’s sake but also for their individual development. Sloane is used to being the odd one out and after the events of the last book, it becomes vitally important to her to feel like part of the team. Not just as someone who can crunch number or hack into an FBI secured laptop, but as a valuable member of this makeshift family. It is Sloane who I see as making the most strides when it comes to expressing her emotions in a group rapt with dark pasts.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Bad Blood is just as compelling as its predecessors with dark twists that will keep the reader on their toes from start to finish.

4/5

★★★★

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Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

stalking-jack-the-ripper-by-kerri-maniscalcoTitle: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1
Pages: 326
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Release Date: September 20th 2016

      “Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.
      Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

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“Everything was most certainly not okay, and this was no mathematical equation; my hands were covered in blood. I frantically wiped them off on my bodice, but it was no use. Blood stained my fingers in a crimson accusation.”

Stalking Jack the Ripper is a nice blend of thrills and mystery. With a likable protagonist and detail-oriented story, this work of historical fiction was really fun to read. Jack the Ripper stories can be really intriguing as they are based on a mystery that’s never been solved and authors can do what they will when it comes to filling in the blanks. Though novels that center around the idea that the forward-thinking protagonist is not like other girls in her time period can be annoying at times, I still enjoyed reading about how Audrey Rose defied societal expectations and appreciated that most of the men in her life helped her instead of hindering her ambitions. I also liked that the author was sure not to put down other females or femininity itself in order to elevate the protagonist.

Aside from a couple of instances where I found it frustrating that Audrey Rose made the foolish mistake of wandering alone at night by herself with a serial killer on the loose, the protagonist was a character I could really get behind. Her interest in science stems from her mother’s passing and her eccentric uncle’s work with the dead, both as a professor and an assistant to the police, help her achieve her goals. Despite Stalking the Ripper‘s commitment to detail, the story does gloss over the fact that Audrey Rose’s grandmother was from India. I think this could have been a really defining and interesting part of the protagonist’s identity, but only a couple of times is this mentioned and I would have liked to have heard more about this part of Audrey Rose’s family.

I really liked the exchanges between Audrey Rose and her uncle’s assistant Thomas. He’s a little too sure of his deductive skills, which may drive the protagonist crazy, but also challenges her to be better herself. There were also times where he was sociably awkward one moment and adeptly flirtatious the next, which could be confusing. Stalking Jack the Ripper‘s mystery wasn’t too hard to unravel, as I had a pretty good idea of who the killer was pretty early on, but it was still entertaining to see the mystery unravel and I’m looking forward to seeing what new mystery Audrey Rose solves in the next book.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: All In
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #3
Pages: 378
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 3rd 2015

      “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.”

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      “You close your eyes and remember coming up behind her. You remember closing your hands around the chain. You remember her fighting.
      You remember the moment when she stopped.”

In All In, Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s third installment in her Naturals series, Cassie and the crew tackle another serial murder case, but the pasts of several teens come back to haunt them. Barnes writes very plot-driven novels that manage to be fast-paced and engaging, but also gives room for her characters to breathe. Sometimes a story focuses so much on interpersonal relationships that the plot takes a backseat, but Barnes’s ability to create a mystery that needs to be solved is what really stands out to me with this series.

Cassie, Dean, Lia, Michael, and Sloane are very different from one another, they all have individual hang-ups and there’s always that underlining conflict among some of them, but at the end of the day, they are willing to fight for one another. Cassie spent so many years growing up with only her mother to rely on that trusting other people and opening up to them is something she struggles with. Haunted by all the unanswered questions surrounding her mother’s murder, Cassie’s drive stems from the guilt she feels over her mother’s death and the belief that she can do something to make up for it. As the child of a serial killer, Dean’s whole identity is tied to what his father did. He constantly wrestles with himself over his ability to step into the mind of a serial killer and if this means that he’s capable of committing murder himself. If I have any criticism of this third installment, it’s that I wanted to see more of Dean’s character arc.

Of all the characters, I think Lia is the most puzzling. She’s less defined by her ability to spot a lie than her ability to tell a convincing one. She doesn’t give a lot away, is curt, and sometimes purposefully rude. I’m hoping the final installment introduces more of her past, which I believe will round-out her character more. Michael is a character that I find frustrating. In the first two books, I really found it hard to like him, but this novel really helped in resolving some of the issues I had with him. Sloane is the one character that I felt I knew very little about going into this one, but the plot hits really close to home for her and gives us a glimpse at this incredibly intelligent and vulnerable girl.

All In adds a lot of layers both to the characters and the overall plot of the series. The story is compelling and never suffers from unnecessary pauses. I’m really eager to see how the author resolves a really interesting storyline she introduces at the end of this one, but also a little afraid of where it might take these characters that I’ve grown rather fond of.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

Title: Blood of My Blood
Author: Barry Lyga
Series: Jasper Dent, #3

Jasper “Jazz” Dent has spent his entire life in the shadow cast by his serial killer father, Billy Dent. He thought he could be smarted than Dear Old Dad, but Jazz’s quest to outwit his father has left him alone and bleeding from a gunshot wound. But Billy isn’t done with his son just yet. After saving him, Billy leaves Jazz with the knowledge that he has someone he loves. Jazz has two choices: let the authorities chase Billy, who spent most of his life being ten steps ahead of them, or sacrifice everything and go after Billy himself.

“I’m not afraid of you.”
“Course not. You’re not smart enough to be afraid of me.”

Barry Lyga’s Blood of My Blood, the final book in his Jasper Dent series, sees its protagonist finally confront his father and the disturbing memories still lurking in the back of his mind. Jazz has grown up trying to convince himself that all the thoughts embedded in him by his father can somehow be overcome. But in this final installment, the ruthlessness, the cunning, and the dark thoughts are the only way Jazz can finally put a stop to Billy Dent’s murderous rampage. To stop Billy, Jazz must be willing to sacrifice his own humanity and become the killer his father raised him to be.

Billy Dent may be the most menacing and twisted villain I’ve ever come across in fiction. He’s smart, strong, cold, and there is something disturbingly warm about him when it comes to Jazz. Billy’s voice cuts through the pages, far more distinctly and more clearly than any of the other characters in this series. Billy is not the only sinister antagonist in this final book and as impossible as it seems, there is someone far more vile. Someone who will have you wondering if therapy might be a viable option not only for the characters but also for yourself as a reader.

Barry Lyga’s series deals with the age old question of nature vs. nurture. Whether or not one’s own will-power is enough to overcome these damnable influences. If you weren’t uncomfortable reading the first two books, this final one will certain do the job. With twists, murder, and cruelty at every turn, Blood of My Blood brings the series to a ferocious conclusion.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★