Disappointment hit me like a gut punch, low and hard. The beginning of All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes held so much promise, so much potential. Like many authors who write a book series, Barnes seemed to follow the pattern of increasing the stakes with each passing novel. However, I felt like the elements of danger in this book were raised to a ludicrous level. It far surpassed what the first novel had introduced and then proceeded to layout the ending in the most mundane fashion possible. I cannot stop reading the series, since I’m only one book away from the end, but I also cannot in good conscience recommend this third installment in The Naturals series.
All In – The Summary
After spending the holidays with her paternal family, Cassie prepares to return to Washington D.C. and the other prodigies. Cassie had learned some terrible news during the holidays, but she isn’t prepared to share with Dean, Lia, Michael, or Sloane just yet. When Cassie arrives at the private jet, she learns that Michael had gone home for the holidays as well. Michael’s father is known to have a temper and to physically beat Michael. Cassie worriedly mulls this over as Special Agents Briggs and Sterling transport all the other teens away from D.C. and to Las Vegas where their next active case is located.
Once the team lands and arrives at the humble accommodations waiting for them, Michael drives up to the group in his brand-new convertible. He tells them his father has rented out the largest hotel suite at The Majesty on the Las Vegas Strip for their own personal use. Needless to say, Lia is delighted with a room located in the main hustle and bustle of Las Vegas.
Sloane’s father runs everything in The Majesty, but he wants nothing to do with her and doesn’t want his son from another woman to interact with her. Sweet, statistical Sloane is crushed, throwing herself into her work of finding the killer to try to bury her pain. Michael is also irresponsibly acting out as a result of being emotionally crushed. Because of these problems, Cassie receives clear instruction from Lia that now is not the time to melt down over the news she’d heard during the holidays. Cassie does as told and does her best to tuck away her emotions.
Thanks to Sloane’s diligence—if not somewhat questionable sanity and shocking work methods—the FBI agents learn about the Fibonacci cult. The cult doesn’t advertise about itself, but initiates its members by asking them to singlehandedly murder nine people. The Fibonacci cult doesn’t exactly have strict guidelines in how these people need to be killed, but certain methods are preferred. Barnes painstakingly details the entire thought process—interspersing with some dialogue—in how the teen prodigies find out about the cult.
Everything begins unravelling at the end, and not as neatly as with the teens’ other cases. Sloane loses someone dear to her, and Michael nearly gets himself killed. But Cassie’s past comes up, theoretically hitting her in the middle of solving the Fibonacci case, and suddenly the lines of dreams and reality about her mother’s disappearance begin to blur. By the end, Lia decides it is Cassie’s turn to melt down and for Michael to toughen up because everything is just about to hit the fan in preparation for the final book in the series.
All In – The Analysis
To read about Michael acting out because Cassie rejected his advances hurt me more than any description of a serial killer’s victim. Michael with his wit and charm is an easily loved character, and he was bound to do something stupid—like going home to his abusive father—just to distract himself. But just because this type of behavior fit his own personal modus operandi doesn’t mean I like to read about it.
Reading about Sloane and her personal history also hurt me. Even though Sloane was the unexpected daughter of a woman’s affair with a casino owner, she should never have had to deal with constantly being told to stay away. It was a comfort when Sloane’s half-brother went out of his way to accept Sloane and to treat her like family. Aaron managed to wind his way into my heart, let alone Sloane’s. The subplot with Aaron and Sloane was well written, even if Sloane’s family pain was not fun to read.
The last third of the book All In was fully dedicated to how the teens figured out about the Fibonacci cult and how they solved the case. It was long, dull, and boring. It seemed like something I would have done—writing play-by-play, never skipping ahead, and never changing perspectives. In reading the acknowledgments, I learned that Barnes was preparing for a wedding. Maybe she should have postponed writing this book until after the honeymoon?
The only aspect which I appreciated was when Cassie tried to comfort Michael, telling him how he was her very first friend. Outside of her relationship with her mother, she had never had a friend before. Barnes was a little scanty in telling how Michael took this piece of news, but I can imagine he found at least some comfort in Cassie’s revelation.
I give this book a 5/10 rating. The last third had stretched unbearably long, so long that it felt more like the last half was pure problem solving. But I also give this novel a five because of the resolution of broken and hurting relationships, the coming together of five teens as a family unit. Too many people live alone in the real world, but these five prodigies show how total strangers can become tighter than blood. I think many people would live happier lives if they would simply turn to those around them, accept them, and learn to love them. And I think Barnes believes this as well.