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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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

★★★★

Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Killer Instinct
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #2

The Naturals, the FBI program that no one is supposed to know about, is comprised of teens with special skill sets that allow them to find clues that normal people might overlook. Cassie Hobbes, a member of the Naturals, has survived a face-to-face encounter with a killer obsessed with her mother’s murder and as much as she wants to be over it, she’s not. When FBI Agent Veronica Sterling arrives with the express purpose of keeping the Naturals from any more active cases, Cassie and the others have little say, but everything changes when a body is discovered bearing striking similarities to the murders committed by serial killer Daniel Redding, also known as Dean’s father. And despite warnings from Agent Sterling and Dean himself, Cassie is determined to help close this case for his sake, even if it means putting herself in danger.

“They saw the lines you carved into her body. They saw the noose you slipped around her neck…Your lips curve into a smile. The moment has passed, but the game–the game is long. Next time, you won’t be so eager. Next time, you’ll have nothing to prove. Next time, you’ll take it slow.”

I want to start off by saying The Naturals was a surprise favorite for me earlier in the year. Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Killer Instinct was just as good, and actually provided me with a lot more insight into certain characters that I felt needed more development. I’m not a big fan of love triangles and I’m especially not a fan when they continue into the second book, so this is the only thing I disliked about this book. Cassie doesn’t want her life to be defined by who she chooses and in fact is determined not to choose between Dean and Michael at all. The program and the people around Cassie make her feel like she belongs and she would rather have this than romance.

It is my slightly biased opinion that Cassie’s romantic interest in one boy or another would probably come about more naturally if Michael wasn’t so anxious for her to choose. This was one of my problems with him and although I understand his past has a negative affect on how he deals with Dean, I wanted him to be able to get past it because it really kept me from giving him the kind of sympathy I think he deserves. As for Dean, I’m just a sap when it comes to this character. Barnes is very subtle when it comes to presenting this unsure and quite boy, and this translates really well in his relationship with Cassie. Their connection is all about the little things and how opening up to one another is difficult for both parties, and I never felt like either character was being pushy with the other.

Lia absolutely shines in Killer Instinct. In the first book, I got very little from her besides manipulation and hostility, but Barnes does a fantastic job of exploring this character further through her relationship with Dean. I now understand her behavior toward Cassie on a completely different level and am actually quite impressed with the way she has handled herself. Sloane, the fourth member of the Naturals, got a few scenes to shine too and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her. Veronica Sterling was another character we got to know in this book who I immediate pegged for an older version of Cassie. And the brief insights we got into Daniel Redding’s mind were both frightening and fascinating.

Rating 5/5

★★★★★

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #1

Cassie Hobbes has an uncanny ability to read people, a natural profiler who analyzes a subject’s innermost motivations. Approached with a mysterious offer by the FBI to join a team of Naturals, skillful individuals trained in the art of dissecting UNSUBs in murder investigations, Cassie must consider leaving her family behind to pursue the opportunity to exercise her natural ability.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Naturals. It was a refreshing change from the books I’ve been reading lately. After the last book I read, I was in dire need of something different and wonderful–Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Naturals fulfilled both these needs.

“You need to see them, I told the killer silently…Every time you kill, you need more. You need to be better. She needs to be better. Killing women on the street wasn’t enough anymore. You didn’t want a quickie in a back alley. You wanted a relationship.”

The team Cassie meets is comprised of very different individuals, including herself. Cassie is a damaged girl, haunted by the murder of her mother, who struggles when asked to see through the eyes of a serial killer. Sloane sees the world in a numerically analytical way, but finds it difficult to relate to people on an emotional level. Lia has the ability to spot lies and spends a lot of her time pushing boundaries with her own. Michael is adept at reading emotions, but rarely gives enough of himself away to be read himself. Dean, like Cassie, has a skill for slipping into the mind of others, but is plagued with the fear of becoming what he profiles.

Michael and Dean both provide an interesting dynamic with Cassie. One is relentless in his pursuit and the other can’t get away fast enough. The book hints at a messy past for both guys–pasts that I look forward to delving into. Personally, I found that Dean complimented Cassie more, but I couldn’t completely dismiss Michael as it’s obvious he cares about her a lot. That being said, I couldn’t get past the way Michael treated Dean which pretty much sealed it for me when deciding which one of these characters I liked better.

I do wish that Barnes would have spent a little more time developing the relationship between Cassie and one or both girls. A lot of books are too preoccupied with romance at the expense of friendships, especially female friendships. I also wanted to hear more about Lia, who I think projects a deceptive image of herself based on how she thinks others see her. I liked these five people together and hope to see them develop into of a functioning, unstoppable team which I believe they are more than capable of becoming.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★