Sharon Reads: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a young adult novel. Cassie is seventeen and living with her father’s extended family. Her mother was a stage psychic, before being murdered. Thanks to her mother’s lessons Cassie excels at reading the body language and little details about the people around her. Cassie is approached by the FBI to join a special team of other teens with natural abilities. Joining the team would mean moving to Washington D.C. and helping to solve cold case files. Cassie cannot pass up the chance to solve her mother’s murder. However, no one on the team is quite what they seem and danger is close to home. Cassie and the unique team need to solve this case before one of them becomes the next victim.

The Naturals has just about everything you could want from a young adult novel. There is a cast of quirky and well fleshed out characters that still defy categorization, a mystery or two to solve, action scenes with life and death scenario, teenage ‘I do not fit in’ angst, and romance (a triangle of course). There are strong characters that while flawed hold true to their values and an ending that had resolution but still left me wanting more.  Cassie is an independent, caring, and strong character. She is willing to risk herself to help others, but does not take foolish risks. Michael is snarky and seems overconfident but seems to be wearing that personality as a mask to protect himself, he is naturally skilled at reading emotions. Dean, a profiler like Cassie, is the strong silent type who isolates himself and tries to control his temper. Lia is a vain, pretty teen who can tell when others are lying and the ability to lie to anyone. Sloane is a statistical genius and is more than a bit quirky. The team work with the FBI agents and are under the watchful eye of a caretaker while in the house. Of course, you throw this many teens in the house and there will be power struggles and romantic entanglements- however for the most part this is secondary to the set up of the plot and the mysteries that need solving. Cassie does spend a significant amount of time over-thinking everything, but that is part of being a sixteen year old girl.

The Naturals is at its heart a teen drama and a thriller. The danger is slow to evolve, and I was completely surprised by the final answer, even though I  had the ‘bad guy’ narrowed down to just three people by the time the full story was revealed. While readers might need to suspend their disbelief as they deal with the idea of people with the innate abilities or the idea of the FBI working with a teen of talented teens, others will just be able to shrug and move on.

The Naturals is a good start to a new series and I gave it four stars on Goodreads. I really enjoy Barnes’ writing style, and everything I loved about the characters in the Raised by Wolves series is here as well. Readers that like Cold Case, Criminal Minds, or any of the shows with a psychological look at crime solving will see something that they like in this series. I have not seen anything about the sequel to this book yet, but I will definitely be reading it when it is released.

This review was originally published on Sharon the Librarian.

Sharon Reads: Weather Witch by Shannon Delany

[Cover]

Weather Witch

Weather Witch by Shannon Delany is a young to new adult novel with a bit of a steam punk feel. In the New World rank is everything, and being deemed to carry some sort of magic is the worst curse of all. Jordan is from one of the highest ranked families in society, and she is celebrating her seventeenth birthday, a moment when she should have been clear of any suspicion of magic and ready to start planning marriage and her future. However, a back alley dealing leads to Jordan testing positive as a witch. She, and her family, lose rank and all respect in the society as Jordan is whisked away to be tested further and ‘made’ into a usable source of power. But the Maker is having trouble doing changing Jordan. Meanwhile, Jordan’s friend and romantic interest Rowen seems to be the only one of rank that has not given up on her and does everything he can to save her, while an escaped witch works to bring down the man and culture that made him an outcast.

Weather Witch is a more complicated story than I expected when I picked up the book, in a good way. I expected the standard fare of young adult finds out they are ‘special’ and both good and bad happen because of it. While there is a certain aspect of this here – Jordan is considered special –  there is also deep world building and several related story lines running through the book as well. We get to see into the heart and personal life of the Maker, who without that insight would have simply been the bad guy. We get to see into the psyche of a good number of side characters as well. At times it felt like it would soon become overwhelming, for me it never crossed that line, rather it made me curious to see how everything would come together. I was not disappointed, well maybe in a couple twists but only because I liked the characters that I knew would no longer appear after certain moments. I could understand others getting confused by the voice changes and the incremental world building, but it really worked for me. I really enjoyed getting inside the head of Rowen, Jordan, the Maker, and even some servants to see the whole picture, rather than the limited perspective a single character might offer. I do not want to talk about the plot more, or give away any good stuff, because I found the book to be a surprising journey and would hate to ruin that for anyone.

I would recommend Weather Witch to readers that enjoy steam punk, coming of age tales, historical fiction, science fiction or fantasy, and simply reading something that feels fresh and new.l I think that young adults and adults would both enjoy the book, while the majority of main characters are of the teen set, the setting and political factions will keep everyone interested and turning the pages. Frankly, the only thing that really bothered me about the book was an ending that was obviously a set up for a sequel, and the knowledge that Stormbringer will not be released until January of 2014. I would give Weather Witch 4 stars.

This review was originally published on Sharon the Librarian.